Following is UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ commencement address to Seton Hall University, in Newark, United States, today:
Allow me to say first and foremost: Congratulations, class of 2022.
I’m deeply grateful for this honorary degree — which I accept on behalf of the women and men of the United Nations, working tirelessly for peace, sustainable development and human rights around the world. But, this is your day. Moments like this are precious and rare.
The journey to graduation day is never an easy one. But, for the class of 2022, the mountain was steeper still. Half of your studies took place under the shadow of COVID-19 and all the challenges that go along with it.
Getting here required enormous flexibility and innovation. It required the patience and love of your families, who share in this celebration. And it required the support, guidance and counsel of the friends and faculty members surrounding you today.
As you reflect on how far you’ve come, let’s take a moment to recognize all those who stood by your side and helped get you here with a big round of applause.
The graduates we celebrate today embody the vision of Seton’s founder, Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley, who saw the school as “a home for the mind, the heart and the spirit”.
A home for the mind — reflected in its academic rigor and expectations of excellence. A home for the heart — providing all students with the singular opportunity to give back through community service as “servant leaders”. A home for the spirit — welcoming students of all faiths and cultures, while proudly preserving the school’s Catholic heart and soul.
Given our location today at the edge of Newark’s Ironbound district, I could add: a home for homesick Portuguese like me, with some of the best Portuguese restaurants in the tri-state region. And of course — a home for athletic excellence. So, allow me to say, right here in Prudential Center: Go Pirates.
Thanks to everything Seton Hall has given you, you now have a priceless opportunity to give back, and be the “servant leaders” that our world needs.
Your path may not be straight or predictable. I speak from personal experience. Over four decades ago, I graduated university as an engineer. But, I confess, I have never practised engineering. What I ultimately took from my training went far beyond electronics or telecommunications.
The most important skills I gained from my education and my university, were “learning how to learn”, how to work with others, how to communicate ideas, and above all, how to make a difference in the world.
So, no matter which path you choose — even if it may bear little resemblance to your original training — I know you will look upon your years at Seton Hall as an incredible opportunity to change the world for the better.
And to embody the adventurous spirit shared by all of Seton Hall’s graduates — and one that springs from this school’s inspiring motto: Hazard Zet Forward — “Whatever the peril, go forward.” Indeed, there is no greater expression of Seton Hall’s true Pirate spirit than persevering through peril. We need that spirit today more than ever.
As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I feel it is my duty to report that you are entering a world brimming with peril. We face conflicts and division on a scale not seen in decades — from Yemen to Syria, from Ethiopia to the Sahel and beyond.
And, of course, the war in Ukraine — a violation of that country’s territorial integrity and the Charter of the United Nations — is causing immense human suffering, destruction and death. It is also exacerbating a food, energy and finance crisis around the world.
Meanwhile, the climate crisis is wreaking havoc and threatening to erase entire communities and even entire countries — with Governments failing to take the action needed to turn this around.
Poverty, exclusion and inequality are worsening. The gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” in every country is widening. Hunger and famine stalk millions. Human rights are under assault. Women are still largely shut out of the halls of power and boardrooms of business.
Knowledge, science and expertise are being devalued by conspiracy theories and outright lies. People increasingly mistrust their institutions, their Governments — even each other. The misuse of social media is undermining the social fabric. Hate and extremist thought are being amplified across societies — seen tragically, once again, by the outrageous racist massacre in Buffalo 10 days ago.
Global solidarity is missing in action — from the scandalously unequal rollout of COVID-19 vaccines to the absence of support to help developing countries recover. And geopolitical fault lines are spreading fast. From the Middle East, to the threat of a new cold war with grave nuclear undertones, to terrorism and sectarian fighting within countries rooted in ancient grievances, to an explosion of extreme nationalism that ignores the central truth that international solutions are always in the national interest.
Each challenge is another sign that our world is deeply fractured. As I tell world leaders across my travels, these wounds will not heal themselves. They cry out for international solutions. They demand that countries stand with one another within a strong multilateral system.
Building a better, more peaceful future requires collaboration and trust, which are sorely lacking in today’s world. I do not raise these challenges to darken your special day today. I raise them because it now falls to you, as Seton Hall graduates, to use what you have learned here to do something about it. To live up to your motto, and in the face of peril, go forward in building a better future.
My generation — and your parents’ generation — have fallen short in bequeathing the world you deserve. But, when I look out at all of you today — strengthened by the skills you have learned at Seton Hall — I have hope. I have hope that you will succeed where my generation failed.
You will be the generation that succeeds in ending extreme poverty and hunger, and reducing inequality. You will succeed in developing new technologies and breakthroughs that can end disease and suffering. You will succeed in replacing hatred and division with reason, civil discourse and peaceful dialogue.
You will succeed in building bridges of trust among people — and recognize the inherent dignity and rights we share as human beings. You will succeed in balancing the scales of power for women and girls, so they can build better futures for themselves and for us all. You will succeed in closing the fault lines and healing the divisions that needlessly scar our world.
And my friends, you must be the generation that succeeds in addressing the planetary emergency of climate change. Despite mountains of evidence of looming climate catastrophe, we still see mountains of funding for coal and fossil fuels that are killing our planet. That money continues to flow from some of the biggest names in finance, hedge funds and private equity.
But, we know investing in fossil fuels is a dead end — economically and environmentally. No amount of greenwashing or spin can change that. So, we must put them on notice: Accountability is coming for those who liquidate our future.
Last week, I announced five actions to speed up the shift to renewable energy. Today, I am focused on the action you can take. As graduates, you hold the cards. Your talent is in demand from multinational companies and big financial institutions. But, you will have plenty of opportunities to choose from thanks to the excellence of your graduation.
So, my message to you is simple: Don’t work for climate-wreckers. Use your talents to drive us towards a renewable future.
Thanks to Seton Hall, you have the tools and the talents you need. This is a Catholic university, and as a Catholic, I have always been guided by the parable of the talents. As the history majors here will tell you, talents were currency at the time of the Roman Empire. And as the religion majors here will tell you, the parable reminds us that we are not only privileged to have the talents or advantages we have, we also bear a solemn responsibility not to squander them, but to use them in a responsible and constructive way to the benefit of those who are less privileged than us.
Throughout history, humanity has shown that we are capable of great things. But, only when we work together. Only when we overcome differences and work in the same direction, with the same aim — to lift all people up, not only those born to wealth and advantage. Only when we look to all people as fellow global citizens — with goodwill, tolerance and respect.
So, to all graduates, I urge you: Be useful. Be mindful. Be kind. Be bold. Be generous with your talents. Once again, my deepest congratulations to the class of 2022, and my thanks to Seton Hall.