In a commencement address at Georgetown University, where he received an honorary degree yesterday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told graduates to choose service, be bold, listen, champion progress and act with passion and compassion.

Here is the full statement of the UN Secretary-General:


Please join me in saluting the families, friends and faculty who shared in your journey and achievement.

Thank you for this honorary degree. I humbly accept on behalf of the dedicated United Nations staff around the world, working day and night, for peace, development and human rights. This honour is for them.

Dear graduates,

I am at home at Georgetown.

Your list of graduates reads like a United Nations directory.

It includes so many people, particularly, among them, United Nations spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric.

You must have listened to so many statements, every hour, every day.

But there may be some things that you don’t like. So if you don’t like anything I say, blame him!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since I like to speak in the local language wherever I travel, he taught me an important phrase:

Hoya Saxa!

I asked him what it means.

He said it means: “what rocks!”

I asked him what that means.

He said: I have no idea. But it’s good.

I think you all rock! I know that some of you have spent the whole night, rocking and dancing!

Again, congratulations again on this big day.

Dear graduates,

You have reached a pivotal moment in your lives. Our world is also at a crossroads.

Seventy years ago next month, the United Nations was born in San Francisco.

Since then, the United Nations has helped end wars and start progress in places where nearly all hope was lost.

We have protected millions of people– but repression and exploitation continue.

The ozone layer may have been saved – but the existential threat of climate change looms.

Today, we face multiple tragic crises, from Syria to Yemen to South Sudan.

There are more refugees — 50 million — than at any time since the end of the Second World War.

Inequality is growing. Extremism is spreading.

At the same time, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

We are the first generation that can end global poverty.

We are the last generation that can slow global warming.

Here are three ways you can lead.

First: Make the choice of service.

There are many paths, including the one I chose: public service.
What is important to remember is that history does not measure a person by his or her bank account.
What counts is how much one gives back to the world – and how courageously one fights for what is right and for those in need.
I will tell you my personal story. In 1962 I was in Washington, DC, just visiting as a student. As one of the international students, I was invited, luckily to the White House, and I met President Kennedy. I was part of a group of one hundred

[student]. He said, at the time of the cold war, “you can be friends, even though, the governments may not. What is important at this time is that there are no national boundaries. How much and whether you are willing to extend your helping hand to the people who are in need. This is exactly what I am asking you.”
This is my ninth year as Secretary-General of the United Nations. I have seen leaders rise and fall.

But what stays with me is this truth: When individuals serve others, they enrich themselves. When countries serve the global interest, they advance their own security.

Dear graduates,

My second message is: Be bold and champion progress.

When I became UN Secretary-General, there were new issues to confront – including human rights for all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Some wanted me to be quiet. But I felt obliged to speak out because lives were at stake. Because this is a human rights issue.

I stood with the LGBT members of the human family – and today same-sex partners at the United Nations enjoy equal rights.

This year, the United Nations is working to champion progress across our agenda of peace, development and human rights.

In September, we will adopt a new sustainable development agenda to end poverty, including a set of sustainable development goals.

In December, governments have promised to finally reach an ambitious agreement on climate change.

Last month, I met with His Holiness Pope Francis in the Vatican. We talked about his upcoming encyclical on human ecology and the environment. I believe this document, encyclical, when published next month, can profoundly shape how we view our responsibilities to the planet and to one another.

Georgetown University, as a Jesuit institution, will no doubt be in the forefront of this bold pursuit for a better planet.

My third message to you today is: Listen – listen most of all, to opposing views.

In my time as Secretary-General, I have seen too many leaders turn a deaf ear to the voices and dreams of their people.

It is as though they rule with noise-cancelling headphones.

Again and again, I have urged leaders to listen carefully and sincerely to the aspirations of their people.

But listening is not just for leaders. It is just as important for average citizens to turn to each other with open minds and open ears.

Yet I fear that people are increasingly reluctant to hear dissonant voices. They are comfortable in their echo chambers.

Too many communities rush to point out an affront against them, but ignore the legitimate grievances of others.

We must close the ‘empathy gap’ that is so prevalent in our world today.

This is not an age for worlds of one. We must be one world – One world.

Dear graduates,
Esteemed faculty members,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today you receive your Georgetown diploma – one of the greatest accomplishments a young person can earn. You should be proud.

But listen carefully. It also comes with an IOU.

I’m not talking about your student debt – I cannot do much about that!

You have another debt – your debt to society — the responsibility and the privilege that comes with your achievement – to inch the world closer to social justice.

Let me give you one last bit of advice – something my middle school principal told us:

“Keep your head above the clouds”, he said, “and your feet firmly planted on the ground – then move step by step.”

In other words, aim high and take practical action to realize your goals.

So choose service. Be bold. Listen. And act with passion and compassion.

Be a global citizen.

If you do, I have no doubt — you will rock us all to a better future.

Hoya Saxa”