NEARLY FOUR DECADES after he had stood in the audience as a graduating student, former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon MC/MPA 1984 looked out at hundreds of Harvard Kennedy School graduates during Commencement Week and exhorted them to fix what his generation had failed to.

Speaking about the existential threat of climate change, Ban, who led the U.N. from 2007 to 2016, said future generations will live in a world increasingly resembling the dystopian planets imagined in science-fiction movies unless the political leaders take necessary action now.

“The fact of the matter is that today’s world leaders have thus far failed miserably by putting selfish national interests ahead of urgent global needs,” Ban told the HKS graduating class of 2023. “They have failed to see the big picture—that the world will sink or swim together—or they have decided to play a dangerous game of chicken, demanding that others do more to curb CO2 emissions.”

Ban, who returned to HKS as an Angelopoulos Global Public Leaders Fellow in 2017, was addressing a class of 706 graduates from 42 U.S. states and 84 countries and territories. He urged them to “do more to cultivate and expand the great virtue of global citizenship with compassion.”

“To be a global citizen and leverage the power of compassion is a significant step as an individual to create a brighter future for all of humanity and our planet,” Ban said. “Today, 8 billion people live on our planet. I have met countless people from all around the world who possess enormous amounts of passion and courage. Passion and courage constitute a significant portion of human power, but they are valuable only when accompanied by compassion.”

Headshot of Jessica Stern

“We need people in the streets, we need people who negotiate with governments, and we need people who are in government.”

U.S. Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons Jessica Stern at a Forum in February
Headshot of Darren Walker

“I believe inequality is among the greatest threats to our democracy because inequality asphyxiates hope, and hope is the oxygen of democracy.”

Ford Foundation President Darren Walker at a Forum in February
Headshot of Judy Woodruff

“If we don’t have journalists who are pouring themselves into digging up the facts…asking tough questions and holding people accountable, then our country is hurt by that.”

2023 Shorenstein Goldsmith Career Award Winner Judy Woodruff speaking in March
Headshot of Chris Sununu

“I think the future of America is in the effective class of governors, both Republican and Democrat. Government at the local level is the best government.”

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu at a Forum in March
Headshot of Justin Pearson

“If you only focus on who’s president, you will miss that your democracy is being taken from you by the people who are sitting in your state capitol.”

Tennessee State Rep. Justin Pearson at a Forum in April
Headshot of Yoon Suk Yeol

“A nuclear weapon is not just about technology. … We would need to give up many of the values we have been upholding if we decided to develop our nuclear weapons.”

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at a Forum in April

Banner photograph by Kayana Szymczak; Portraits by Martha Stewart, Bethany Versoy, and Stephanie Mitchell.