Live a Life That Is ‘Full of Commitment, Full of Good Works and Full of Meaning’, Secretary-General Urges Graduates at International School Commencement

28 May 2009

Live a Life That Is ‘Full of Commitment, Full of Good Works and Full of Meaning’, Secretary-General Urges Graduates at International School Commencement

28 May 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the United Nations International School graduation ceremonies, in New York, 28 May:

Congratulations to the Class of 2009!  You worked hard to reach this day.  You deserve today’s celebration.

But let’s also have a round of applause for the distinguished faculty, family and friends who helped you along the way.  Your success is theirs, too.

You will not be surprised to hear me say that you graduate at a time of great global uncertainty.  But perhaps it would surprise you to know that I also consider this as exciting a time as I can remember.

It is true.  The crises we face -- food, fuel, finance and flu -- are devastating indeed.  But they also create opportunities for change.

As you now move on to college or any other pursuits, there is tremendous potential for you to play an important role in making those changes happen.

The financial crisis has shaken the foundations of the global economy -- its rules, its credibility and its values.

Climate change, too, is a fundamental threat.  In fact, this climate change was the first subject which I discussed with you soon after my appointment as Secretary-General.  Every day, it seems, scientists find that their worst-case scenarios have become more likely scenarios -- and the timeline for action grows shorter and shorter.

As the flu epidemic shows, “transnational threats” are no longer problems for classroom discussion.  They are challenges of the here and now.

The economic crisis has also demonstrated our interdependence in the most visible way.  Who would have thought, a few years ago, that a mortgage crisis in Arizona or Florida would bring down Governments in Europe and shake the economies and societies of Latin America, Asia and Africa?

The world has changed.  Ties of commerce, communication and migration bind us ever closer.

Threats spill across borders.  People are more interdependent, and so are the issues.

No nation can deal with them alone.  This new world demands a special brand of leadership -- a global leadership.

We need powerful partnerships.  We need, in short, a new multilateralism.

It is that effort -- solving global problems, working together on big issues -- that makes me think of today’s challenges not just as a burden, but as an opportunity we cannot afford to pass up.

So I urge you to look out upon our world – our world of trouble and need -- and consider not only what you can do to help, but consider a full-fledged life of public service.

I know personally the value of such a career choice.

During my boyhood in Korea, I experienced first-hand what is it like to be hungry, afraid and being alone.

It was after the Korean War, and I went to school in the open air.  There were no walls, only rubble.

There was not much to eat.  Often I went to sleep, crying from hunger.

The United Nations helped feed and defend my people.  It helped rebuild my country.

Ever after, for me and my country, the United Nations has been the symbol of hope.  For many hundreds of millions of people in the world, it is so today.

That is why I urge you to join us … and to enlist in the new multilateralism, at the grass roots.

You might decide to join the Peace Corps, Red Cross, Red Crescent, Human Rights Watch or any number of emerging non-governmental organizations from the developing world.

The point is to be a part of something larger, larger than yourself.

My distinguished predecessor, Dag Hammarskjöld, once told students at Johns Hopkins University that, I quote, “International service requires of all of us first and foremost the courage to be ourselves”.

That means, again I quote, he said, being true to your ideals and interests.  But, he said, those ideals and interests “should be such as we can fully endorse after having opened our minds, with great honesty, to the many voices of the world”.

Your years at UNIS have prepared you well for the global adventure you will no doubt experience in the years to come.

Today, we celebrate the UNIS chapter of your life.  Tomorrow, it will be time to turn the page.  I urge you to look ahead with determination to live a life that is full -- full of commitment, full of good works and full of meaning.

The United Nations needs you.  The world needs you.  You will be the leader of next generation.  Godspeed to you all.  Congratulations again.

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