Secretary-General, at University of Denver Commencement Ceremony, Urges New Graduates to Choose Careers in Public Service

10 June 2013

Secretary-General, at University of Denver Commencement Ceremony, Urges New Graduates to Choose Careers in Public Service

10 June 2013
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General, at University of Denver Commencement Ceremony,

Urges New Graduates to Choose Careers in Public Service


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the University of Denver graduate commencement ceremony, in Denver on 7 June:

I am delighted to join you at this great school on this great day.

Thank you for this high honour.  Some months ago, Chancellor Coombe reached out and said, “We wanted to invite the most famous South Korean in the world.”  I was very flattered.  But then he added:  “Unfortunately, Psy can’t come.  Are you available?”

Congratulations to today’s graduates.  To all the new Ph.Ds and MBAs; to the scientists, artists and engineers; to the new masters of education, social work and international studies; and to all of you in Denver University’s many other fields of graduate study.  It is time to celebrate; time to pat yourselves on the back; time to look at your diplomas and say, “Yes, I did it”.

Let us not forget the professors, parents and friends who supported you through years of difficult assignments, late nights and tough exams.  Let’s have a round of applause for them, too.

Now you are ready for the next challenging stage in your lives.  I know you will be taking a lot of Denver University out into the world.  I want to talk to you today about how you can take the United Nations with you, too.

The world is changing dramatically, rapidly.  New economic Powers are rising.  New threats have emerged, climate change above all.  And the human family has a new profile ‑ more than half the earth’s people are under the age of 25.

Your challenge, ours together, is to shape this new world for the better; to build a landscape of peace while conquering the persistent problems of old ‑ poverty, hunger and hatred.  That is where your new degrees come in.  My first hope for the Class of 2013 is that many of you will make the choice of public service.

I never expected to be a public servant, at home or abroad.  When I was a boy in Korea during and after the war, we were focused on rebuilding.  My village had been destroyed.  We had no schools.  We could barely find enough food.

My life changed when I was chosen as a student representative to an international meeting organized by the Red Cross in the United States.  This was quite something for a country boy like me.  If I had done nothing more than fly on an airplane and back again, that would have been exciting enough.

The highlight was a trip to Washington, D.C., where our group met President Kennedy in the Rose Garden.  He told us to remember “There are no national boundaries; there is only a question of whether we can extend a helping hand”.

I decided then and there to pursue a career representing my country to the world.  So I take it to heart that the honorary degree you awarded me today is in the field of public service.  Thank you for this recognition.  I know it is meant also for the organization I am proud and privileged to serve.

As United Nations Secretary-General, I have seen countries that were once battlefields begin to find stability and a place in the global economy.  I have seen old foes reconcile, finding that there is more that unites than divides them.  I have seen people and groups and companies and foundations come together behind global causes ‑ vaccines for children, factory safety, democracy and disarmament.

Such gains, movements and transformations do not just happen.  They are made possible by people who create something, who donate something, who reach out, who think beyond themselves to the greater world of human need and aspiration.  I am thinking, in short, of people like you, with newly acquired skills and the boundless energy of youth.

Whether you sign up with the Peace Corps or the United Nations Volunteer programme, whether you join government, business or a community organization, the world needs you to make service an important element in your lives as your futures unfold.

We also need you to be global citizens.  That is my second appeal to you.  One of my early memories is of American soldiers helping the United Nations to defend freedom in my country.  I remember schoolbooks provided by UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], and food aid from UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund].

Such help from beyond our borders did more than help us survive.  It helped us live.  It told us we were not alone at our moment of need.  We need that kind of solidarity today.  Trade and technology can connect the world.  But only people can unite the world.

These are challenging times.  The violence in Syria continues to worsen.  One of every three Syrians needs urgent humanitarian assistance.  One of every four has been uprooted from their home.  Sectarian tensions are growing more dangerous.  Regional stability is at risk.  Let me stress that there is no military solution to this calamity.  A negotiated transition is the only path to a Syria living in peace.

As the United Nations works to resolve this and other crises, we are also striving to build the deeper foundations of peace.  We are working for a world without nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.  We are taking new approaches to peacekeeping and focusing more and more intently on preventing conflict in the first place.

The International Criminal Court and other tribunals are securing pioneering convictions for serious violations of human rights.   And we are battling to avert climate catastrophe by seeking a global agreement, but also by reducing risk in the face of the extreme weather that is already upon us.

It is sometimes said that poverty will always be with us.  That is a woefully outdated view.  The Millennium Development Goals ‑ the eight-point blueprint for overcoming poverty, hunger and disease ‑ have proven to be the most successful anti-poverty push in history.  Now we are the first generation in history that can truly wipe extreme poverty off the face of the earth.  When I look out over this audience, I see the people who will make it happen.

The new teachers and educators among you:  we need you to help us reach the 60 million children around the world who are not in school.  The new entrepreneurs and businesspeople:  please help us promote the investments and infrastructure that will help developing countries thrive.  The scientists and engineers:  amaze us with new inventions; give us the facts and evidence that will drive smart policymaking.  The social workers:  infuse the world with your sense of caring.

I have seen the difference that individuals can make.  I think of Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot for daring to speak up for girls’ education.  She has inspired people across the world to support the empowerment of women and girls ‑ the single best investment we can make in our future.

I think of the young men and women in the Arab world who rose up in peaceful protest against repression and corruption.  Today’s challenge is to enable these transitions to realize their promise.

And I think of the young women I met last month in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who had been brutally raped but who have been rebuilding their lives and their country.

We must all use our passions, our gifts, our entrepreneurial energy, our power as voters, consumers and concerned citizens.  I appeal to all of you here to join us in this mission of hope.

These are times of test, to be sure.  But to me the road ahead is rising.  Don’t just take my word for it.  Listen to the Korbel School’s own International Futures programme, supported by today’s other honouree, Frederick Pardee.  The Pardee Center spends its days looking many decades ahead.  What does it see?  Continued dramatic reductions in global poverty, rapid gains on education, strong progress against communicable disease.

No doubt there will be surprises and setbacks.  Any day’s headlines are far from sunny.  But the big picture is clear:  slowly but surely, the human condition is improving.

The United Nations will do its part in sustaining this momentum.  I look forward to great contributions from today’s graduates in that shared effort.

Congratulations again.  Thank you for inviting me to share this special day with you.  I wish you all great happiness and success.

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