United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reflected on the importance of service and unity in a world filled with crises and opportunities during his address to the Class of 2015 at the School of Foreign Service’s commencement ceremony this morning.
The ceremony began with an invocation from Fr. Gregory Schenden, S.J., and a brief address from Provost Robert Groves.
“All of you together represent the totality of our educational community,” Groves said. “We know that families and diverse university staff are keys to help [students and faculty] do their work.”
Secretary of the University Edward Quinn then read the university’s federal charter, which celebrated its 200th anniversary on March 1 this year.
Master of Science in Foreign Service Program Director Anthony Arend, who won the Constantine E. Maguire Medal for outstanding service to the SFS this year, introduced Ban, who was appointed South Korea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 2004 and became U.N. Secretary-General in 2007.
“He has worked to ameliorate the underlying causes of conflict,” Arend said. “He has often said, ‘Missiles may kill terrorists, but good governance kills terrorism.’”
Highlighting Ban’s work promoting women’s rights and tackling global climate change, Arend, together with Interim Dean James Reardon-Anderson and University President John J. DeGioia, presented Ban with the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.
“I feel at home at Georgetown. Your list of graduates reads like a United Nations directory,” Ban said.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945. Noting the milestone, which he called a “crossroads,” Ban pointed to the unique challenges and opportunities currently facing the world.
“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 — any time since the end of the second world war,” Ban said. “Yet, we are the first generation that can end global poverty. We are the last generation that can address global warming.”
Speaking to the graduates, Ban offered three pieces of advice. First, he asked them to choose a life of service.
“What counts is how much one gives back to the world,” Ban said. “This is my ninth year as Secretary General, and I have seen leaders rise and fall. But what I have seen is this simple truth. When individuals serve others, they enrich themselves. When countries serve others, they bolster their own security.”
Second, he called them to “be bold.” Pointing to the advances in LGBTQ rights around the world and even within the United Nations itself, Ban noted the importance of leading progress related to peace, development and human rights. He specifically highlighted the upcoming Sustainable Development Agenda to be adopted by the U.N. later this year and the comprehensive agreement on climate change expected to be confirmed in Paris in December.
Third, he implored the graduates to listen, particularly to opposing views.
“I have seen too many leaders turn a deaf ear to the aspirations and concerns of their people,” Ban said. “Listening is just as important for average citizens. Turn to each other with open minds.”
Ban said that listening would bridge gaps in the world today and unify societies.
“We must close the empathy gap that is so prevalent in our world today,” Ban said. “We must be one world.”
Closing his speech, Ban said that a responsibility to the world and social justice accompanied the privileges associated with a Georgetown degree.
“Keep your head above the cloud and your feet planted on the ground, and move step by step toward your goal,” Ban said. “Aim high and take practical action to reach your goals.”
After Ban’s address, Ambassador Andrew Steigman, professor of diplomacy, called the names of the graduates to receive their diplomas, beginning with dean’s medal recipient and class marshal Mina Pollmann (SFS ’15). 426 students graduated from the SFS this morning.
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