New York

19 May 2016

Remarks at the Honorary Degree Ceremony at Marymount Manhattan College

Ban Ki-moon

It is a pleasure to join you today. Thank you for this great honour. I know that, through me, you are also recognizing the United Nations and its diverse and dedicated staff. We are grateful for this expression of support for our ideals and for our work.

I have one question, though. I understand that one of Marymount’s theatre arts graduates has appeared in one of Broadway’s current smash hits.

Does that mean this honorary degree comes with two tickets to “Hamilton”?!

Thank you for welcoming me into the Marymount community.

I have heard much about your strong academic programmes and equally strong commitment to public service.

I am also told that President Kerry Walk has brought wonderful energy and warmth to the campus community since arriving last year.

Though I will be here for only a short while today, I am glad to have this opportunity to feel the Marymount spirit.

I know the Class of 2016 will soon celebrate. I wish them all great success and happiness.

Today, I would like to convey two messages to the graduates and to the entire Marymount family.

First, at this turbulent moment in world affairs, we must not lose sight of the opportunities that are in our hands today that can set the world on a better course.

One can easily be overwhelmed by the daily headlines -- the latest terrorist attack, the latest extreme storm, new outbreaks of disease. This is no doubt a time of many dangers. We see war crimes, inequality and the gathering storm of climate change. We see racism and hatred, at times stoked by political leaders themselves.

The world must unite against these threats to resolve conflicts and save lives today. The United Nations strives to do just that, every day, around the world, around the clock, through diplomacy, development, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. This coming Monday and Tuesday, May 23rd and 24th in Istanbul, the United Nations is convening a first-ever World Humanitarian Summit aimed at strengthening the world’s ability to protect people, provide life-saving aid, and prepare better for disasters of all kinds.

But even amidst these crises, the bigger picture is clear: slowly but surely, the human condition is improving. I have seen, in my lifetime, countries -- including my own -- transform their futures. I have witnessed, in ten years as Secretary-General, the remarkable power of international cooperation.

Even at this time of division, world leaders came together last year to adopt two landmark plans to advance common progress for all humankind: first, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and second, the Paris Agreement on climate change.

We are also seeing new mind-sets that recognize the need for global cooperation, the need to stand up for equal rights for all, regardless of race or faith or sexual orientation.

This remains an era of wondrous opportunity. Our challenge is to harness this potential so that we can uphold the core promise of the 2030 Agenda: to leave no one behind.

That brings me to my second message. To realize our shared goals -- to build a future of dignity for all -- the world needs more compassion.

Many people, even most people, have passion. Not everyone has compassion. Yet that is the glue that will bring us together for the work that can only be done together.

I am alarmed at the lack of compassion we see in so many ways today.

Empowering women and educating girls are among the keys to sustainable development, yet violence and discrimination remain pervasive.

More than 125 million people need life-saving humanitarian assistance. Yet United Nations funding appeals for food and medical assistance for people caught up in conflict or disaster routinely fall woefully short.

More than 60 million people have been displaced from their homes by conflict or persecution. Yet refugees from Syria and elsewhere who have lost everything, and who have a right to asylum, instead often face barbed wire and discrimination.

I continue to call on more countries, including the United States, to re-settle more people. This is a shared duty. It is also a proven benefit to the countries that take people in. We must counter those who promote dangerous myths about refugees and migrants.

From anti-Muslim bigotry to anti-Semitism, from homophobia to racism, hatred is holding humankind back. The United Nations continues to work for the human rights of all people, and to promote global solidarity. This is a time to build bridges between people, not walls.

You may be aware that I grew up during wartime. I saw my village destroyed. My parents spent each day trying to find food for the family. We survived on food and medicine from UNICEF. We studied with textbooks provided by UNESCO. And of course, the troops of many nations -- including the United States -- secured our freedom while fighting under the UN flag.

The United Nations was our lifeline and beacon of hope. Across nearly decade as Secretary-General, I have tried to have the United Nations be for others what it was for me. Across 70 years, the United Nations has helped the world to defeat deadly diseases, get children in school, lift millions out of poverty and enable countries turn away from conflict.

But there is so much more than we can and must do. I will continue working hard, right up to my final day in office, to serve the global common good. I know that is Marymount’s commitment as well, and I thank you for your many contributions.

Thank you.