9 May 2006

Success Characterized by Ability to Learn, Unlearn, Relearn when Necessary, Deputy Secretary-General Says in NYU Commencement Address

NEW YORK, 8 May (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the commencement address as delivered today by UN Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown to NYU's School Of Continuing And Professional Education:

It feels especially appropriate that my first commencement address as Deputy Secretary-General should be at NYU.  By way of a quick ride from the United Nations Headquarters, I've moved from the centre of international diplomacy to a hub of international education.

NYU enjoys this status because the university, its future, its fortunes, and its very fabric are entwined with this world city which gives it its name.  And nowhere is this connection clearer than at the School of Continuing and Professional Studies.  Of all the students at the many schools of NYU, the graduates gathered in this hall provide the University with its most tangible, most real connection to the city.

For you are the part of NYU which exists not simply in the academic towers of Washington Square, but in the office towers of midtown and the businesses of Brooklyn.  You are simultaneously town and gown.  You represent the city to the University, and the University to the city.

NYU was founded as a university where the classical curriculum of older American colleges was to be balanced by a more modern and practical education.  An education to prepare individuals for a life of action, not just of the mind.

I doubt there is another part of this University that better prepares so broad an array of graduates for real life.  Indeed, by carrying on working while completing your degrees, many of you already lead two lives.

And this, ultimately, is why it is such an honour for me to be addressing you:  the determination and initiative required to pursue further studies and a career at the same time are qualities that I have long admired.  They are the qualities that prepare individuals to lead, and to succeed.

Alvin Toffler wrote that "the illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn".

As a former chief of the UN Development Programme, I have a particular perspective on continuing education:  that of the countries of Southern Africa as they emerged from long and vicious civil wars.  In places like Mozambique and Namibia, many of today's leaders spent their traditional university years in the bush as freedom fighters.  Yet when justice and democracy were established, many of the rebels went back to school.

In Mozambique, leaders in the interim Government worked by day and took courses by night.  Former child soldiers enrolled in primary school, thirty-something fighters hardened from years in the bush signed up for college, Government ministers sought law degrees on the side.

Mozambique became, almost literally, a country governed by continuing education.  The determination to learn reflected a determination to rebuild.  To put the war years behind them and to regain lost ground, Mozambicans decided that it was never too late to learn, to go to school, to set a new course for themselves.

This passion and determination to learn sticks in my mind.  It is what, to me, explains much of the country's extraordinary progress since the peace agreement.  Today, the bombed-out shells of ambushed cars and abandoned, bullet-marked buildings have been cleared away.  The economy has consistently chalked up some of the highest growth rates in the developing world.  People have returned to the daily tasks of living.  Children recite lessons in humble, but operational schools, and corn grows in small, family farms that feed millions who depended for years on international charity.

In a lifetime of work for development, I have found -- over and over again -- that it is this ability and openness to learn, to unlearn, and relearn when necessary, that characterizes success.

You are already ahead of your peers in terms of your predisposition to learning.  I hope you will cultivate this advantage, nurture it, act on it.

Your studies in NYU's classrooms should be the beginning, not the end, of a lifetime of learning.

If necessary, you should be ready to return to the classroom to retool or refocus.  But the most important learning may not be done in school.  You need also to be ready to engage in the world beyond; to live in it, to travel it, to work in it and to experience it.  You should develop a bias in favour of thinking globally, even when acting locally.

My own continuing education has been based on this sense of global citizenship.  A readiness to change countries more often than jobs.  To pick a general focus -- development -- and then practise it in all forms and in all places; in the private sector and in the public sector; in Latin America and in Africa.

It is also this pursuit that has brought me to New York.  For I am what E.B. White, in his classic essay, "Here Is New York", called the third type of New Yorker:  not a native, not a commuter, but a "person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something".  That something, in my case, is the opportunity to play a part in the UN's worldwide mission of peace, development and human rights.

Among you today are the first batch of graduates of the Program for Global Affairs.  It is right that NYU should have such a programme, though I also know 

from many colleagues who have attended evening classes here that your curriculum has always had a strong international bent.  Still, I'm sure the Global Affairs graduates join me in saying "about time!"

I hope you also share my identification with the UN and its mission.

Because whatever your field of study, the UN's work concerns all of you.

Consider the range of our activities and our expertise.  We promote democracy and literacy.  We fight corruption and drugs.  We check nuclear proliferation and combat bird flu.

All this is well known.

You might be surprised, however, to learn just how much the United Nations family does in areas that directly affect many of those working in this city.

We encourage investment and trade.  We protect copyrights.  We help Governments open their markets, write business-friendly legislation and ensure regulatory consistency.  We try to ensure decent education and health services for all.

In areas such as aviation, shipping, telecommunications and customs procedures, we set the technical standards that make international transactions possible.

This is the vital "soft infrastructure" of the global economy.  Whether you pursue interactive marketing or travel management, information technology or sports business, this infrastructure will influence your career.

More than half a century ago a great New Yorker, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, made a passionate plea for America's global engagement.  "We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations, far away", he declared.  "We have learned that we must live as men, and not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger.  We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community."

As New Yorkers -- whether by way of Brooklyn or Brazil, Staten Island or Spain -- and as graduates of this University, you have a special obligation to heed this call.  For in an era of global citizenship, you inhabit what E.B. White called "the capital of everything" where one can "feel the vibrations of great times and tall deeds".

I have no doubt that in the years to come, you will create your own vibrations.  No matter where you do so, I hope you'll continue to represent not just the ideals of this University and the vibrancy of this city, but also the exhortation of President Roosevelt.

That, ultimately, is the charge of global citizenship.  And as I look around this hall, I feel confident that I am in the presence of global citizens.

Thank you, congratulations, and good luck!

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