23 June 2004


Press Release



Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s address at the 100th graduation of StuyvesantHigh School in New York, 23 June:

My wife and I are delighted to be with you today.  I am especially honoured to speak to you at this centenary graduation.

I must admit that I am also a bit intimidated.  So much talent and intellect assembled in one place -- one almost worries the hall isn’t big enough to house your collective IQ!

There is clearly no limit to the variety of talents that Stuyvesant fosters and nurtures.  You are computer scientists and mathematicians, poets and playwrights, linguists, artists and musicians.  We heard a wonderful sample of your school’s musical gifts just now.

So as someone whose trombone-playing is no better than his trigonometry, and with very limited experience of Bunsen burners or Intel software, I feel my credentials in this gathering are pretty modest.

I also know that on September 11, 2001, and throughout the aftermath of that unspeakably painful day, you displayed exceptional character and courage.

I would venture that there can be no response more eloquent to the terrorists’ message of hatred, no nobler face that any country could show to the world, than the kind of multicultural tapestry we see in the student body of StuyvesantHigh School.

You are living proof of how grace and dignity can overcome adversity, and how strength and unity can grow out of diversity.

As if that were not humbling enough, your institution is 100 years old this year, whereas the one I represent is still a year shy of 60.  That makes the United Nations a spring chicken compared to Stuyvesant!

Speaking of chickens, I am told that Stuyvesant students have a bit of a prankster side to them, which, I gather, has even involved the use of live poultry on the loose.  Principal Teitel, you have my sympathies.  Students, please know that I agreed to come this morning only on condition there be no roosters unleashed on the stage.

Anyway, there are a lot of things I cannot compete with you in.  But there is one very important thing that we have in common.

For important parts of our lives, you and I have both been shaped by great international institutions.  Stuyvesant may be a New York high school, but you come from almost as many different backgrounds as there are members of the United Nations.

What has brought you together is a desire to learn, to excel, to make the most of the opportunities this world has to offer.  And I know that your education at Stuyvesant will have helped you do that admirably.

But I hope your time at Stuyvesant will also have inspired in you the kind of international outlook which is indispensable in today’s world.

The world today is interdependent, connected, as never before.  What happens at one end of the globe affects the other.  Whatever your chosen field turns out to be -- science or business, politics or the arts -- none of you can afford to think in purely local terms.  If you do, you will lose down the line.

But if you try to learn about what lies beyond the confines of your day-to-day life, if you are open to other cultures, if you try to follow events in other countries and continents, you will grow up better prepared for the world in which you are going to live.  And you will find that the qualities you need to make you the best kind of world citizen will come to you quite naturally.

That brings me to the other thing I hope your education at Stuyvesant will inspire in you.  I hope it will make you think about how you can give back to society.

You have probably heard many times the saying that the true measure of success in a human life is what we give back to our fellow men and women.

Our strongest role models -- from the heroes of legends to the exceptional teacher we remember for the rest of our lives -- tend to personify that quality beyond any other.  Indeed, many of you graduates may be here today partly thanks to someone like that -- someone who took a special interest in you, and helped you to discover your talents and make the most of them.

You can find such people in all walks of life.

For example, I’m sure many of you admire Bill Gates.  I confess to being an avid admirer myself.  But one of the reasons I admire him is that his vision goes far beyond his work as founder and leader of a phenomenally successful business.  He has brought the same sense of determination, the same gift for innovation, to the fight against poverty and disease worldwide, and channelled billions of dollars back into initiatives for global health, research and learning.

I think each and every one of you can possess that quality of giving back to others -- on one condition:  you must have the courage to believe that what you do really does make a difference.

You may think to yourself, what difference can one person make in the face of oppressive governments, environmental threats or civil war?  Yet there have always been, and always will be, those who make a difference one by one.

Look at Nelson Mandela, who went from prisoner to president because of his unbending integrity, bravery and beliefs.  Look at Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains a powerful symbol of democratic values after years under house arrest in Burma.  Look at Bono, the rock star who has used his voice to help spur governments across the world to action on African debt relief and HIV/AIDS.

These individuals’ lives can serve as inspiration for all of us to act, in ways however modest -- although given the kind of alumni Stuyvesant tends to produce, chances are that your contributions will not be modest at all.

Whatever you go on to do, I hope you will see the United Nations as an ally in your mission.

It may seem to you as if the United Nations has always existed.  But people like me, who were born before World War II, do not take it for granted.  And neither should you.

The United Nations offers us all the best hope of a stable world, and a broadly fair world order, based on rules that everyone accepts and agrees to follow.  Maybe that statement has been questioned in the past year.  But I believe recent events have shown how profoundly true it is.

If anything, the United Nations is needed even more today than in the past, because today, in our globalized world, problems can cross frontiers even more freely than we do -- whether it is terrorism, disease, drugs or environmental degradation.  To deal with them, we need solutions that cut across frontiers, too.

We need nations big and small to work together.  We need the United Nations.

At the UN, decisions are taken by governments working together.  But those governments represent the people of the world -- and the work of the UN is really about people.  Day in and day out, the UN family works to keep the peace, promote human rights, protect the environment, fight disease and reduce poverty.  It works to build better lives for people everywhere.

The United Nations is the only organization in which all the peoples of the world are represented –- and the UN Charter begins with the words “we the peoples”.  It is up to all of us to make it work.

I hope I can count on you, the Stuyvesant class of 2004, to help us do that.

I know that as you go on to weave the fabric of your individual lives, you will make the best of the golden threads that Stuyvesant has given you.  The threads of dignity in adversity, of unity in diversity.  They are the same threads that hold together the tapestry of our common humanity.

So go out and make your difference in this world -- and don’t forget to have fun along the way.  The very best of luck to you all.

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For information media. Not an official record.