United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on high school students at the Georgetown student-led Model U.N. conference at the Hilton Washington yesterday to become the future generation of U.N. leaders.

“I’m excited to be here and see young leaders of the future,” he said. “Let me congratulate the Georgetown University International Relations Association for organizing one of the largest Model U.N. conferences in North America.”

Ban said that the U.N. played a prominent role in his early life through the aid it gave his country, South Korea.

“I was a child of the Korean War,” he said. “I grew up with the U.N. as a savior.”

In addition, he said he identified with delegates through his own Model U.N. experience in high school; specifically, he highlighted a trip he took in 1962 to Washington, D.C., during which he met with President John F. Kennedy at the White House.

“It was a very inspirational and unforgettable experience for me,” Ban said. “It made me think, `What should I do for my country?’ and made me make up my mind – I need to be a diplomat.”

2,500 Model U.N. delegates from 128 high schools from across the country as well as Latin America, Canada and Denmark, were in attendance at the NAIMUN Conference, organized by the Georgetown International Relations Association, a not-for-profit organization unaffiliated with the university. According to Monica Munn (SFS ’09), NAIMUN secretary-general, the tournament is run entirely by 175 Georgetown students.

NAIMUN is also the largest Model U.N. conference in the Western Hemisphere and the second-largest in the world.

In his speech, Ban said that he fundamentally believes that he can make a difference through his work as Secretary-General.

“I can be a bridge builder. I can be a harmonizer,” he said. “I am the person who believes in the mission of the U.N.”

Ban said climate change is one of his top priorities as U.N. chief, adding that there is no time to waste in curbing the effects of global warming.

“There is a shared sense of urgency to act now. It is not too late, but we are running out of time. We are standing at a crucial junction,” he said. “This is my responsibility at this time, but it will soon be yours. . The scientists have made it quite clear, simple and clear, that global warming is happening.”

He emphasized individual responsibility in working toward a long-term solution to global warming, encouraging students to seek administrative changes towards greater sustainability at their schools and urging them to recycle.

“I hope you work as an agent of change for this issue. Everyone has a role to play,” he said. “You should and can be working to reduce your carbon footprint.”

Ban said his aspirations for the world are simple in nature.

“I do not want to leave this world in such bad shape to you,” he said.

Before becoming Secretary-General of the U.N., Ban served for more than 37 years in the government of South Korea, including his most recent stint as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

While on his two-day trip to the District, Ban attended a memorial service for U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday morning and is slated to meet with President George W. Bush today.

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