Democratic Values and Leadership by a New Generation

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Democratic Values and Leadership By A New Generation, SIPA Commencement Address 2011

SIPA Commencement Address by H.E. Mr. Kofi Annan
Columbia University, New York, May 14th 2011

Thank you, Dean Coatsworth, for your kind words of introduction.

President Bollinger, distinguished faculty, proud parents, loving friends and, most importantly, the graduates of the class of 2011, good afternoon.

I am honored to be a part of such a joyous occasion, and at an institution so close to my heart.

From receiving an honorary degree from Columbia in 1998 to my current role as a Global Fellow, I count myself very fortunate to have enjoyed a long-standing relationship with this great university.

When I was Secretary-General, I regularly turned to Columbia and its faculty for advice on the most pressing of global issues.

So today I feel privileged to be able to pay back a little of this debt by sharing some thoughts with you – the next generation of leaders.

Students of the class of 2011, you – and your parents and partners– have every reason for pride.

A diploma from SIPA is not only proof of your intelligence and hard work. It also highlights your commitment to focus on the problems our world faces.
But I have to remind you that the diploma you are receiving also carries with it a big responsibility.

It is a responsibility to apply the knowledge you have gained and the analytical skills you have learned to help find and deliver the solutions to improve lives, extend opportunities, and serve your communities.

There is plenty for you to do. The challenges are, as you know, unprecedented in scale and complexity.

Extreme poverty, famine, disease, and natural disasters, are still widespread and will only be made worse by climate change. Wars within and between states, nuclear proliferation, and transnational organized crime also remain unrelenting.

And in the last five years, we have witnessed a severe rise in global food prices, soaring energy costs and, the gravest economic crisis in the last 60 years.

These interlinked crises threaten to reverse the progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, and remind us that inequality remains one of the most shameful and persistent problems in society.

Today we live in a world where a sub-prime crisis in the US rapidly spread to every economy, costing jobs and shrinking incomes.

It is a world where infectious disease can spread across continents within days.

It is a world where governments have recognized the responsibility to protect their citizens from genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Our fortunes, hopes and fears are indeed linked together as never before.

Yet I fear we have not yet internalized the change of attitude required nor the responsibility it places on us all.

We need to embrace a new ethos that emphasizes cooperation and accepts shared responsibility for transnational problems.

Our progress must be shared or it will not be sustainable.

This requires leadership that recognizes that lasting progress and durable solutions need to be based on shared values and goals.

It must be driven by big ambition and boundless creativity but grounded in our common humanity.

And this is where we turn to you. For you are the first generation who can truly call yourselves global citizens.

We need you to take the lead. Indeed through our TV screens and computers, we can see it is already happening.

In North Africa and the Middle East, it is young people who are demanding change for the better.

Young Arab men - and importantly, women - have refused to stand idly by and allow dictatorships to continue neglecting their people.

They have issued a wake-up call to repressive regimes everywhere.

If leaders fail to lead, the people can make them follow.

And through their bravery, they have reaffirmed the notion that democracy, rule of law,...
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