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17 May 2020

Help World Recover Better from COVID Pandemic by Being ‘the Change You Want to See’, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Fletcher School Graduates in Commencement Address

Following is UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s commencement address, as prepared for delivery, to the Fletcher School, in New York today:

It’s a great honour to celebrate with you and congratulate you today.  My thanks to Dean Rachel Kyte for inviting me to speak to you.  I hope all the Fletcher community, faculty, students, administrators, and your loved ones, are keeping safe and well.

We are living in surreal times.  This graduation is virtual because our lives have become virtual.  We are living them online.

The COVID-19 pandemic has stripped everything back to the bare essentials.  And the new normal means finding ways to be together and to keep our spirits high.  What matters today is honouring your hard work and accomplishments, and marking an important milestone in your lives.

Congratulations to each and every one of you.  This is a proud day, and you have worked hard to get here.  Every one of you has demonstrated commitment, energy and resilience.  Today, you join the distinguished ranks of Fletcher School Alumni, which includes Heads of State, ministers and diplomats, United Nations Under-Secretaries General, and leaders in all areas of life:  academia, business, civil society and more.

Our world is in turmoil.  Our economies are in freefall.  People are scared, grieving and anxious.  The COVID-19 pandemic is causing enormous suffering, and the measures to contain and overcome it are testing societies to the breaking point.  This is above all a human crisis that is affecting everyone, everywhere.

We are in uncharted waters, as people struggle to deal with grief, job losses, anxiety and uncertainty about the future.  COVID-19 is exacerbating the inequalities that were already straining the social contract.  Its worst impact is on the poor, the marginalized and those targeted for discrimination, including women, people with disabilities, migrants and refugees.

The response must match the scale of the crisis and be based on unity and solidarity.  The United Nations is at the forefront.

The World Health Organization is leading the global health response, and the entire United Nations system is mobilized to support Governments at the country level in saving lives, protecting people and restoring jobs and livelihoods.  A global system of air links is transporting medical supplies and equipment to some 120 countries worldwide, ramping up to 700 flights each month.

We are working with Governments and international financial institutions to help countries manage the immediate social and economic devastation, providing guidance for global efforts and putting our supply chains at the world’s disposal.

Here in New York, we are convening intergovernmental meetings on the crisis and mobilizing around a series of policy briefs with concrete recommendation to Governments, civil society and leaders of all kinds.  These briefs focus on how we can mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable groups and how the pandemic will interact with other global challenges.

Through them, we are lifting up voices that are too rarely heard.  We are focusing on people with disabilities, people on the front lines of the health response.  We are determined that those who are marginalized or isolated are involved in responding to this crisis.  We are also thinking about its long-term impact.

Returning to our previous path is not an option.  Everything we do during and after this pandemic must focus on building more equal, sustainable and resilient pathways that enable us not only to beat COVID-19, but to tackle the climate crisis and address the root causes of poverty, inequality and hunger.

The class of 2020 is special.  You are the right people, in the right place, at the right time.  You have the ideas, the energy, the tools, the skills, the strength of character and the opportunity to help the world recover better.  You have the courage of your convictions.  You give me hope.  You give us all hope.  And we at the United Nations are the global custodians of hope.

There are solutions all around us.  Solutions to the climate crisis, from clean electricity, clean electric transport and low-emission urban development to investments in resilient infrastructure and large-scale nature and biodiversity conservation.  Inclusive solutions that address discrimination and inequality of all kinds.

Now we have an opportunity to connect those solutions and to implement them at the scale needed to tackle global problems.  Solidarity, collectivity and interactivity should be our guide.  As you step forward today — the first day of the rest of your lives — I hope you will think about these new challenges and opportunities.

Business as usual is over.  The status quo is over.  The question is:  What will replace it?  And that, above all, is up to you.  From where you are today, the future may look particularly uncertain.  But fear not. If you want to make a difference, you will find a way.  One of my favourite quotes is from Nelson Mandela:  “It always seems impossible until it is done.”

I will end with some advice to you as you embark on the next phase of your lives.

First, get ready for the journey ahead.  Ask yourselves how you can prepare, both physically and mentally, for the future.  And on your way, make each experience — each mile of the journey — count.  The skills and experiences you gain today are treasure in the bank for the future.

Prepare yourselves for adversity.  There are always bumps in the road.  They will prepare you to take on even greater challenges; to raise your ambition and to become compassionate, empathetic leaders and people.

And when you fall, you will need a safety net.  That is your family and friends.  Stay close to them, invest time and energy in them, because they are your shock-absorbers — and you are theirs.  We all belong to each other in this world.

Don’t be afraid to use your voice, your heart and your head to make a difference.  You are all in a privileged position as graduates of Fletcher.  You are all incredible people who have worked hard to get to this point.  Now, I hope you will make it count.  As Gandhi said:  “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

For information media. Not an official record.