Remarks by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at Fort Hamilton High School

Susan E. Rice
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations 
U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
New York, NY
April 7, 2010


Thank you so much for that incredibly warm welcome.  It is really great to be in Brooklyn and I want to thank you all for coming out. I want to thank you, Principal Chester, for inviting me here today.

I want to first of all give it up to the Fort Hamilton Jazz Band for that tremendous performance and junior ROTC color guard for their great presentation. 

I also want to say a special thank you to Congressman Michael McMahon for his kind introduction and for inviting me here today.   I'm here because he sent me a letter, and when I testified before his committee last year, he made a point during his first question to show his pride in the 13th Congressional District.

He mentioned then as he did just now that this is a district of incredible diversity: it's home, he told me, to the largest Liberian population outside of Monrovia; a large and proud Sri Lankan population; the mosque with the largest congregation in New York City; the largest Muslim voting population outside of Michigan; and the fastest-growing Jewish community in New York City.

And he said if you want to see that diversity first-hand-you got to do what everybody does and come to Brooklyn and particularly come to Fort Hamilton High School.  With more than 4,200 students from 64-plus countries, you know better than I that this is more than just a high school.

As Principal Chester likes to say, it's a "mini-United Nations." So I'm really delighted to be here with all of you.  And I feel at home. I know, as has been said, this is your first day back from spring break, and I'm really sorry about that.  I know if you're anything like my kids, you're very much wishing that you were still home.  I'm sympathetic, but I'm going to ask you to stick with me here for a little while, because there are some important things I hope we can discuss.

I want to talk to you a little about the real United Nations and our country's foreign policy. But I also want to talk with you about your education and your future, and the ways we're all counting on you.So let me just begin briefly by telling you a little bit about who I am, where I work, what I do every day, and how I got to be doing this.

I wasn't lucky enough to be born in Brooklyn.  I was born and raised in Washington, DC.  I was a pretty serious student, but I also played tennis and varsity basketball-so don't let my height deceive you, I've got these risers here because I'm so short.  I was president of my student body and valedictorian of my high school class. And then I went on to college at Stanford University in California.

When I was young, I always thought I would go to law school and try to fight injustice and increase opportunity here at home.  I actually thought very long and hard about being a Member of Congress or even a United States Senator.  It's a little hard when you come from Washington D.C. where there's no voting representation in Congress.  But after college, I got the opportunity to study International Relations at Oxford University on the Rhodes Scholarship. And that experience changed my life.

I got my doctorate at Oxford and then I later went on to join President Clinton's administration. I work at the National Security Council at the White House on U.S. policies toward the United Nations and later on Africa.  And from there I went on to the State Department where I was the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.  And in the process, I got thoroughly hooked on public service and how public service enables you to change real people's lives in meaningful ways.  How it gives you the opportunity to try to work to protect the innocent and the vulnerable, and to make the world a better place.  When the Clinton administration ended, I joined a policy think tank in Washington called the Brookings Institution, but I was eager to find new ways to serve. When a very impressive young Senator named Barack Obama decided to run for president, I wanted to join him, and I was privileged to, as one of his senior foreign policy advisors.

When he won the election in 2008, he appointed me as his as his Ambassador to the United Nations. And I am now deeply honored to have the opportunity every day to serve my country again. And to do it in a world where everybody on the planet is epresented. It's demanding work-sometimes it's frustrating work, but I got to be honest and tell you I really love it.

Now, most of you are familiar with the United Nations, but, as you know, it's been around since 1945.  After World War II, the most destructive conflict in human history, 51 countries came together and formed the UN, pledging to maintain international peace and security.

The basic framework for the UN rested on President Franklin Roosevelt's vision that the United States and other major powers would provide leadership in the postwar international system.  Today, the UN is the only place on Earth where all 192 countries can come together to try to advance global security and solve collective problems.

The UN is now even more important today because of the ways in which our world has changed-this is the world that you will all inherit and lead. You're going to have to deal with threats and opportunities that are dramatically different than those that confronted the UN's founders.  In fact, they're even dramatically different than those that the world confronted when I was your age.

When I was in high school and thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, most of the great foreign policy challenges revolved around the Soviet Union, nuclear weapons and arms control.  But you're going to have to deal with the challenges of a very different century.

For one thing, we now have a far wider range of counties that are vitally important, including China, Mexico, India, Brazil, South Africa, and Indonesia, just to name a few-states that the United States needs to cooperate with to confront 21st-century challenges.

Our agenda today is as wide and complex as the world we live in. As young New Yorkers, you witnessed the horrific attacks of September 11th first-hand, and you understand all too well the threat of terrorism. 

And then, as a result, you ought to understand why we urgently need to secure poorly guarded nuclear facilities and materials around the world to keep them out of the hands of those who would misuse them. President Obama for this very reason is next week bringing leaders from almost 50 countries around the world to a summit meeting in Washington so we can move urgently on meeting this threat and securing loose nuclear materials.

And for over a century, our military has been organized around preventing threats from air, land and sea.  Now, in addition, we face cyber attacks on our digital infrastructure and the potential weaponization of space.   The very technologies that are breaking down communications barriers and bringing cultures together could also create new and more complex tools for future conflict.

Crime and drug trafficking are not just local problems, they're increasingly global problems.  The drugs that find their way to the streets of Brooklyn and other cities don't exist in a vacuum; these same underground economies are bringing despair and disruption into the lives of ordinary people from the shores of West Africa to the Far East.

So we face a host of other challenges.  And what do these threats have in common? They are transnational security threats-threats that can cross borders as freely as a storm. And by definition, they can't be dealt with by any one country alone.  So we need international cooperation to meet them.

And that's where the UN comes in. We need U.S. leadership in the context of the UN, but when U.S. leadership is essential, it's rarely enough. We need others to join with us to partner to tackle these burdens.

So day in and day out, my colleagues and I at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations are working to build a new basis for collective action. We are on what President Obama calls the front lines of "our new era of engagement with the rest of the world."

We're pursuing a foreign policy that fits our interconnected age, an age in which you're growing up.  These are days where we cannot view our own interests in isolation - they're connected to everybody else's.

More and more, we live in a world where we will rise and fall together - where the security and prosperity of Americans depends increasingly on the security and wellbeing of people elsewhere.  That's why we are determined to advance our vision of a future that rests on the values that underpin our nation, and a future that we can only create if we stand as people and countries together.

That's my generation's challenge.  But I want to lay out a challenge for you all-the next generation of American leadership.

I challenge you to approach your education as an act of patriotism.  As President Obama said at the start of this school year, "What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you're learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.  When you give up on yourself, you give up on your country."

We need you to become engineers who develop alternative energy solutions to protect our environment and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

We need you to become scientists who will eradicate diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria that.  We need you to become lawyers who will ensure that our country's values are upheld as we face new security challenges.  We need you to become great teachers, like your own very great teachers here like Jennifer Glass-who takes time out of school - stand up - takes time out of school to convene and supervise the Model UN Club.  And above all, we need you all to become the new generation of leaders to tackle challenges we can't even yet foresee.

So doing well in school is a way to show you love yourself as well as your country. This is a personal thing as well.  A college education can make the difference between a life of struggle and a life of success. It may seem that those who are cutting class and hanging around the corners have it kind of easy, but things will change after graduation day.  Don't take my word for it-just look at the statistics. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, workers over 25 with a bachelor's degree earn an average of about $60,000 a year.  Those with a high school diploma earn about $34,000.

Workers with a master's degree make about $71,000 on average; those with a doctoral degree, $95,000 on average; those with a professional degree, $121,000 on average. So you guys do the math. 

I know many of you might not have had perfect academic records up until now, but it is really never too late.  I know that many of you weren't born into lives of wealth and privilege. But there's a reason so many people want to dream their dreams in the United States of America.  It's because we have a path to opportunity and success.

I want to introduce you to my own Special Assistant, right there, Ravi Gupta, raise your hand Ravi, raise it again so people can see you.  Ravi was born not far from here, in Sunset Park.  He was raised on the Staten Island side of Congressman McMahon's district.  Like many of you, he was raised by a single parent.  Now let me tell you that boy got into a lot of trouble when he was your age. He was even arrested for assault after getting into a fistfight in high school.   But he woke up one day and realized that skipping class and hanging out on the street corner was a one-way ticket to failure.  So he got his act together and for the
remainder of his high school years, he set new goals and he stuck to them.

And Ravi got himself accepted into college-and went on last year to graduate from Yale Law School.  I'm very proud of Ravi.  And guess what Ravi wants to do next?  He's going to start a charter school.  He would love to do it in Staten Island, but he's going to do it wherever he can make it work.  He did it and so can you. 

But this kind of change requires commitment. You know you need to work hard every day.  As President Obama has said, "You can't let your failures define you-you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn't mean you're a troublemaker; it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn't mean you're stupid; it just means you need to spend more time studying."

And that, at the end of the day, is the story of America. It's the story of New York.  It's the story of Brooklyn.  That's the story of people overcoming tremendous odds to succeed. That's our story. And it's yours and you're going to write the next chapter. 

But you need to start by asking yourself: what do you want to do? What's your contribution going to be?  What challenges are you going to tackle?  What problems are you going to solve?  Your parents, teachers, your school administrators are here to help you answer these questions, but only you can answer them for yourself.   We're all counting on you. We believe in you. And we're looking forward as you make us proud. 

Thank you very much. 


PRN: 2010/055