Secretary-General's Remarks to United Nations International School - United Nations Conference [as prepared for delivery]
New York, 7 March 2013
Good morning. I hope I did not get you out of bed too early!
Welcome to the United Nations.
I am so pleased to join you as you begin two days of active discussions here at the UN.
I love the name of your Conference – “Modern Youthquake”.
Are you ready to shake things up?
Are you ready to make a difference?
Are you ready to help the United Nations build a better world?
I used to say that young people are the leaders of tomorrow.
But I have revised my view. Young people are also leaders of today.
You are part of history -- the largest-ever generation of young people.
Half of the world is now younger than 25 years of age.
And this historic generation has helped deliver historic change.
But the United Nations needs you to do even more.
As Secretary-General, it is my job to get people of all ages around the world to believe in the UN and to understand what we do and why it matters.
But I also have a special affinity for the UN based on my own life.
I grew up just after the Korean War. My village, my school, my world, was destroyed.
The international community – led by the United Nations – helped us rebuild.
We received food. We received schoolbooks. We received shelter.
But we received something even more precious.
The United Nations gave us hope.
The international community gave us the support and solidarity we needed to help us help ourselves.
And in the span of my lifetime, my country went from ruins to one of the leading economies in the world.
And so when I see the UN flag, I see hope and possibility.
When I look at all of you, I feel and sense that same sense of promise.
In recent years, the world has seen the power of young people to raise their voice and use the vast reach of social media to turn the tides of history.
When protesters in the Arab world stood up for jobs, opportunity and an end to corruption, I spoke out for them. I felt solidarity with their struggle for their legitimate rights and aspirations.
The Arab Spring is a long process – not a season. There will be ups and downs, but the thrust of the change must continue.
I have told every world leader they should learn a lesson from that experience.
It is not complicated. It is not difficult.
In fact, it is only one word: Listen.
Listen to your people. Listen to their demands and dreams. And respond.
But you, too, as citizens and members of society, have a responsibility.
If your leaders do not listen, young people have an obligation to challenge in nonviolent ways so that your messages are heard.
I have done my best to reach out and listen to young people. I am proud to be the first UN Secretary-General to tweet.
I have held townhall meetings on Facebook and Google and Weibo.
I try to visit universities and other places to seek out the views of young people wherever I go.
I believe we must do even more.
We have made important progress in advancing the rights and opportunities for women. That cause continues.
But I don’t think we have done enough to open doors for young people. That is why I made the goal of working with and for young people one of my top five priorities for my second term as Secretary-General.
I want the voices and views of young people to be just as prominent in our meeting space as they are in cyber space.
As part of that effort, I appointed the first-ever UN Envoy for Youth.
He is a senior official in every sense … except his age.
He is 28-years old.
He has experience in the international system. But he also spent 18 days as a protestor in Tahrir Square.
He is here with us today. Please welcome Ahmad Ahlendawi of Jordan.
Ahmad is my Envoy for young people. But I also want you to consider him as your Envoy to the United Nations.
I know the United Nations can sometimes seem intimidating and remote.
One of Ahmad’s main roles will be to demystify the Organization, to bring it closer to you, the people – and you, the people, closer to us.
You can get involved in many ways with the United Nations. Today I want to make three concrete suggestions for you to engage with our activities.
First: Follow the United Nations on Twitter. This is your UN and you should know what we are doing. Our account is “@UN” [“at UN”].
Second: Tell us what you think. Don’t just listen; speak. Participate in UN activities. Model UN exercises take place almost every day somewhere in the world. Raise your voice. We will listen.
Third: Network. If you feel strongly about an issue, join forces. Make common cause with other people who care. Make your voice part of a chorus that demands progress.
Progress for education – for decent jobs – for equality – for sustainable development – for all human rights.
We need you.
We face a warming planet and a warring world.
Climate change is a clear and present danger and we must take concrete action. That is why sustainable development is my top priority.
At the same time, there are many peace and security tests: for example, the crisis in Syria – where almost 70,000 people have been killed – and the troubles in Mali and across the Sahel where poverty, extremism, chronic drought and governance challenges have caused tremendous suffering.
I ask you to continue to stay informed and engaged – and make sure the tremors of the Modern Youthquake help shake things up for good.
I will close with this. When I was young, I got some advice from my principal that I have lived by ever since.
He told me to keep my head above the clouds and my feet on the ground.
In other words, I should aim for lofty achievements and stand for noble principles – but at the same time I should take practical steps.
I advise you to set a large goal for your life – as ambitious as you can imagine. Then start taking the practical steps.
Study, work and drive toward your goals. I am sure you will go far in reaching your dreams and helping the world to become a better place.
Above all, see yourself as more than just a part of your school, your community or even your country. Be a global citizen.
Thank you once again for being here and for your leadership and engagement. Keep it up. By raising your voice, you can lift our world.
Statements on 7 March 2013