23 June 2004
Making a Difference Starts with the Determination of One Person Deputy Secretary-General Tells Waterloo University Graduates
NEW YORK, 22 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchettes remarks upon receiving an honorary degree at Waterloo University in Waterloo, Canada, 17 June:
It is a great pleasure for me to be awarded this honorary Doctorate of Laws from Waterloo University. I am grateful to you for this recognition -- and humbled, too, when I think of how hard all of you students have worked to earn your real degrees.
Today is indeed a banner day for you, and rightly so. You should be proud of what you have accomplished here. Congratulations on this achievement. We should also pay tribute to all the family members, friends and faculty that helped you along the way.
Today is a day when excitement mingles with anxiety. There are so many choices, so many paths on which to set out, so many possible ways to make the most of your talents and skills. How to choose? How to know whats right?
Unfortunately, there is no template, no kit for new graduates, and no roadmap, as we say at the United Nations. Each of you must find your own course, and even make your own mistakes from time to time.
I suspect that many of you, regardless of your field of study, have little idea of what you want to do. I, too, lacked a game-plan when I left university. Rather suddenly, I faced a new chapter in my life, one in which I would be expected to earn my living and take on new responsibilities. Yet I wasnt sure how best to direct my energies.
Looking back, I see now that what I did have was a large dose of curiosity. I was open to ideas and experiences. Much as I loved my immediate community, and my country, what really got me hooked was the wider world in all its amazing diversity. I wanted to know how other people lived. I wanted to know how the world worked.
So I chose the public service. I did so at a time of transformation for our country, when government was growing and was serving as an instrument of fundamental change in education, health and our countrys place in the world. Reform was the prevailing spirit of the day.
To my good fortune, I ended up in the Department of External Affairs. I began a career which has taken me around the world; which has exposed me, especially in my present capacity, to fascinating people and ideas; and which has confronted me, almost daily, with difficult and at times painful challenges. I may not have figured out yet how the world works, but I do have a slightly better sense of what we need to do to make our world more peaceful, prosperous and just.
I certainly hope that whatever path you have in mind, it involves contributing to the greater good. I dont mean to add to your burden, or to rain on todays parade, but our world today demands nothing less.
You might wonder what you, as an individual, can do about such seemingly intractable global problems as terrorism, pollution and the proliferation of weapons and disease; or about the extreme poverty faced by the worlds poorest people, who seem bypassed by life and battered by cruel circumstances. You should never underestimate the power of a single person. Whether we are talking about change down the street or on the other side of the planet, making a difference starts with the determination of one person.
I think, for example, of my colleagues working for the United Nations, men and women such as the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, who lost his life in the bombing of UN Headquarters in Baghdad last August. Sergio never hesitated, not once in decades of service, to go to the worlds most desperate and dangerous zones, often at a moments notice, to relieve human suffering.
I also think of similarly dedicated people who, without being part of any government or large organization, get together and work for a cause -- like those who pushed governments to draw up and sign the international treaty banning anti-personnel landmines; or those who campaigned for alleviating the debt of poor countries or for making trade fair.
Or those who, today, in their communities or far from home, are working to achieve one or other of the Millennium Development Goals, which were adopted four years ago by world leaders as the basis for a new attack on poverty. Those goals include halving hunger, reducing child mortality and reversing the spread of AIDS, all by the year 2015. And though the campaign is embodied in commitments made by governments, our likelihood of achieving them will depend to no small extent on what individuals do -- on the efforts of community activists, private entrepreneurs and young concerned citizens such as yourselves.
Different people. Different issues. What links them all, and what matters most, is to have a passion for something, and to be ready to invest time and energy to pursue that cause. Your initiatives, however modest they might be in and of themselves, will make an enormous difference when combined with those of others. The key is for each of you to get started.
When I left university I found my passion: it was the world, in all its human variety and natural riches, and all its beauty and wounds. I wish you all the best in finding yours.
Thank you again for this recognition, and for your support for the United Nations. Good luck to you all from this day forward!
* *** *