Students and faculty filled Low Rotunda on Monday to listen to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discuss the importance of young people in effecting positive change around the world.
“Young people are forceful in transformation,” he said. “Today’s younger people have advantages—you have the Internet, you have Twitter—young people are using Facebook and Twitter to organize protests and speak out about human rights and oppression.”
Ban focused on “three E’s”—education, employment, and empowerment—throughout his speech, which resonated with students and faculty members.
“I think that for us in today’s world there is a need to be a global citizen, and for that you must have a global perspective,” said School of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Feniosky Peña-Mora. “We are becoming more and more dependent on each other. The world is getting smaller and smaller. If you want to be successful in the global economy, you have to have the right mindset, experiences, and cross-cultural fluencies.”
Peña-Mora said that he remains dedicated to providing students with international opportunities, with SEAS expanding its study abroad opportunities this year for undergraduates.
“Education is a wise, smart investment,” Ban said. “Young people everywhere deserve the power to get information and ask questions about justice, equality, and opportunity.”
Formally titled “From Youth Explosion to Global Transformation: Unleashing the Power of Young People,” the speech addressed global issues like job creation, LGBT equality, women’s rights, education, and climate change, and how the solutions to those problems may stem from the work of younger generations.
“We need to build resilience and equality with wider vision, and the way to do it is to help the youth,” Ban said. “‘Youth’ is a state of mind, because it implies we can always be young.”
Many students were present for the event, and Esperanza Garcia, a masters student studying sustainability management, took advantage of the question-and-answer session after the speech to ask Ban about global warming and implementing policy changes.
“What I ask of you is to do not only what you are already doing but I’m also asking for world leaders to look into how we can implement these policies in real terms,” Garcia said. “It’s important to put in text how we can develop these important measures and how we will really accomplish them.”
Garcia said that she felt it was important to highlight the issue of global warming, but noted funding issues have prevented significant policy reform.
“As young people, we take responsibilities of implementing these changes, but we need the funds,” she said. “If you want to do something large-scale, you need the financing methods—where can we get the funds?”
Vivian Tsai, BC ’15, said that she appreciated the emphasis on education during the speech, but still wonders how the U.N. will work with countries to foster healthy emotional environments for students.
“I moved from Taiwan to the States five years ago, and there was a lack of empathy in education,” she said. “How does … the U.N. seek to combine the two?”
Tsai said that the empowerment component of Ban’s address was important because “he’s reminding people that even though you’re 18 you should have the capacity to change things.”
Ban began his time at the U.N. in 1975 working in the South Korean Foreign Ministry’s U.N. Division, and 31 years later he was elected Secretary-General.
The talk marked the start of the sixth annual Global Colloquium of University Presidents, with this year’s theme focusing on how to address the needs of the “largest generation of young people the world has ever known.”
University President Lee Bollinger gave the opening remarks, calling Ban an “inspirational leader.” “In these days, with rapid globalization, we have a tremendous responsibility to lend our collective scholarship,” he said.