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