3 July 2008


3 July 2008
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address at Seoul National University today, 3 July:

I am honoured and moved beyond words to be recognized by my revered alma mater today.  I owe this institution so much already.  In the 38 years since I graduated, I have felt an enormous debt of gratitude to SNU for the way it prepared me for what was to come.

The path to my doctorate today meandered longer than that of the most laggardly graduate student.  And standing before all of you, I confess I feel a little embarrassed to receive something that has not been earned by means of true scholarship -- especially since our Korean culture puts great stock in earning one’s way through hard work and perseverance.  But don’t worry, President Lee [Jang-moo], I would never give this back.  Any doctorate from Seoul National University is to be cherished and valued.

I thought it would be appropriate, therefore, to speak today about the two paths of scholarship and of public service, and of how they converge in the world of opportunity and risk that stands before us.  We live in an era of accelerating change.  From my childhood in a Korea devastated by war, poverty and famine, I have witnessed a transformation on a scale unimaginable when I was a young boy.  Even dreamers could not have projected such a profound metamorphosis of our land and our nation.  Today, we honour your parents and grandparents for all that they have done to bring about this new Korea.

The pace of change will be even more rapid during the lifetime of those of you who are present today.  Your generation will produce more dramatic technological, social, economic and political advances than any before it.  You will be known as the “change generation”.  You may not be able to change everything in your lifetime, but you can and must determine its direction.

Of all the natural species, it is humans who have been granted the role of agent, not just the subject, of change.  This is our sacred and profound responsibility, individually and collectively.  Unfortunately, we have not always acquitted our stewardship of the Earth we share with the judgment, foresight and integrity this grave responsibility entails.  By and large, we have created our problems, even as we have the means and the intellect to resolve them peacefully and progressively.

As leaders of tomorrow, you should embrace change, not fear it.  By changing ourselves, we change the world.  By changing the world, we change our destiny.  That is the lesson of Korea’s past; it will be the text of our future as well.  No country has worked harder for or benefited more from change than the Republic of Korea.  Now it is our duty to help others follow our path to prosperity, democracy and respect for human rights.  By serving others, we serve ourselves as Korea’s future is tied to the world’s future.  Our fates are inseparable.  We Koreans can and must play a larger role in addressing the pressing challenges on the global agenda.

This is especially true to of all of you as students of SNU.  Our great University is helping to transform our country and, with time, our peninsula and our world.  It is becoming a global, not just national, University as ideas move over the Internet without regard to national boundaries and time and space, much less to national borders, politics and cultures.  Your leadership has never been more important, for the ties that bind our common humanity together are fraying.  They are being severely tested by four challenges that will shape the world’s future.

First, the uncontrolled climate change and environmental degradation are already ravaging our weather, our economies and our daily lives.  The effects may be pervasive, but they are not irreversible.  They pose hard policy choices domestically as well as internationally; and they demand the kinds of global trade-offs and sustained negotiations that I have been engaging in through the United Nations.

Second, population and economic growth have put an unprecedented strain on the Earth’s finite resources.  Today we are facing a dire combination of food, water and energy shortages.  For the wealthy, this may take the form of some inconvenient price rises.  But for the billions of poor people impoverished, such scarcities have life and death implications.  With far-sighted conservation, a collaborative spirit and wise policy choices, we can manage the effects of these scarcities, but again it will require new dimension of cooperation on a global and regional basis, as these shortages also transcend borders and ideologies.

Third, the struggle against inequality, intolerance and injustice continues.  In too many countries, human rights remain more of an aspiration than a practice.  Too often, national leaders seek to hide abuses of fundamental human rights and humanitarian norms behind the false cloak of national sovereignty. 

Despite the solemn pledges of the 2005 World Summit, some still seek to frustrate my efforts to give institutional and policy life to the principle of the “responsibility to protect”.  Sovereignty demands the protection of populations as the highest calling of the State.  To deny this core responsibility is to deny the very rationale and purpose of State sovereignty.

Fourth, thanks in part to the work of the United Nations and its regional and subregional partners, the incidence of inter-State conflict has eased markedly since the end of the cold war.  But in its place, a worrying cluster of stubborn and interrelated transnational security threats has emerged.  Among these are the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the pervasive presence of small and light weapons, the tragedy of failing States, the corrosive effects of transnational organized crime, and the indiscriminate cruelty of terrorism.  These can only be addressed through persistent and sophisticated collaboration on the local, national, regional and global levels.  We cannot let these threats define our future, shape our lives or compromise our values.  We must prevail, even as we preserve our laws, our principles and our respect for diversity and for other cultures and religions.

Do not be intimidated by this roster.  Each challenge is the product of human choices, of mistaken priorities, of inadequate institutions and laws.  Each can be resolved through individual and collective action through the innovative ideas and fresh energies that will characterize your generation of problem solvers.  We can renew the ties that bind, asserting our common interests, our common ideals, our common humanity.

Channelling your energies and ideas into effective global action will require reorienting and renovating international institutions, beginning with the United Nations.  As always, the world body must serve as a critical catalyst for constructive, peaceful and imaginative change.  As the world’s only universal organization, the UN is uniquely placed to provide us with the tools.  It can link countries one to another, region to region, neighbour to neighbour, public to private, rich to poor.

This is why we need to build a stronger United Nations for a better world.  The key to our mission likes in revitalizing the international civil service.  Today, I ask those young people prepared for long hours and endless frustrations, along with inspiring mandates, global opportunities and the incomparable satisfaction of a job worth doing, please consider a career in the UN or other international institutions.  It is a path too few Koreans have taken.  We at the UN need Korea’s best and brightest to join our ranks of hard-headed idealists, of practical dreamers, and of hands-on humanitarians.  There is a world of work to do.  Change is our vocation, the world our workplace.  I would be honoured to have you join me in this quest.

You can and will make a difference.

The world awaits you. 

Thank you very much and I wish you all the best and good luck.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.