FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Good evening everybody and welcome to UN headquarters. It’s great to have you all here.
I want to begin by thanking my old friend Tim Wirth of the UN Foundation, I want to thank everyone from Global Classrooms, and all the educators and organizers who’ve done so much to bring this conference together. It’s a real honor to join the Secretary-General on this program. I think he did a great job. And it’s really wonderful to see all of you here.
Usually, when I look around this room, and I’m typically seated over there in the corner behind the U.S. placard, I’m looking at a group of people that are a little bit grayer than you all. But I like the way this looks. And I hope some of you are thinking, “I could get used to this. I intend to come back!” And I hope one day you will, sitting behind your respective placards.
But, just by being here today, you’re doing something already very important. You’ve put in the time to study the issues, to understand parts of the wider world, to grapple with the challenges facing your nations and your generation. So we need you now to get in the game. And we need you to stay in the game.
And that’s because as you heard the Secretary General say, we’ve got very real problems to solve. The world you live in – the world we all live in – is being woven more closely together every single day, by trade and technology and things like Twitter. That means change can spread as we’ve seen at amazing speed. The Middle East and North Africa have been at the forefront of reminding us of that. But it also means that we all face a new breed of threats that can cross borders as freely as a storm: whether the threat of violent terrorism, the spread of nuclear weapons, of disease, or climate change, and many other such transnational challenges.
These days, all of our fates are bound together with those of others in distant places. When a country far away suffers from conflict or can’t meet the basic needs of its citizens for food and shelter, that country is dramatically weakened, and it too can incubate a new set of threats—threats that can wind up reaching your shores and ours. So we can’t afford just to worry about our own security and prosperity while ignoring people suffering somewhere far from our borders from war or desperate poverty. In the 21st century, we’re all in this together.
And that’s why we need to find common solutions to common problems. And that’s why as you know because you’re here, the United Nations is so important to all of our security, particularly in these tough economic times. Because neither the United States of America nor any other one country can police every conflict, end every crisis, or shelter every refugee. And that is where the UN comes in. The UN brings together 192 countries to share the cost and the responsibility of providing stability, assistance, and hope in the world’s most broken places. The UN lets us share the burdens of tackling global challenges. And he UN shows that we’re stronger working together than we are pulling apart.
Our leadership at the UN makes the United States and the world more secure in at least five important ways. First, through its peacekeeping missions and other field efforts, the UN prevents conflict and keeps nations from slipping back into war. Second, the UN helps halt the spread of nuclear weapons around the world including by imposing tough sanctions on nations such as Iran and North Korea. Third, the United Nations helps cut off resources and funding for people and companies linked to terrorism, human rights abuses, and international crime. Fourth, UN humanitarian agencies go where no one else often will to provide lifesaving food, water, and medicine to vulnerable people from Darfur to Pakistan. Fifth, the United Nations promotes core values that Americans and people around the world hold dear, including democracy, development, and equality—whether it’s by investigating and spotlighting human rights abuses in Syria, Cote d’Ivoire, and Burma or by offering support to emerging new governments in Egypt and Tunisia.
Now, we all know the UN is far from perfect. It must enforce greater budget discipline and become more nimble, accountable, and cost-effective. And it’s got to do more to cut bureaucracy and reward talent. So we’re leading the charge for serious and sustained reform of this institution. But we’re also always clear about the many benefits the UN provides to every American and every citizen of the world.
A lot of important work gets done in this building, and I’m excited that you’re here to learn more about how all it happens. But I’m also excited to see your interest in foreign affairs and the world around you, because believe it or not, there are many times when I think about young people like you. At times when negotiations get tough, and things get especially frustrating, which once in awhile occurs, I honestly think about the next generation—about people your age, who’re depending on strong leadership and successful policies to keep you safe and make your futures brighter. I think about my own kids, and I think about tremendous young people like you coming to take your place in the world—and then I remember that it’s your future that I and my colleagues are fighting for. You give me strength, you give me inspiration, and you make us all very proud.
We’re living in amazing times, in a country and a world that are more connected and more diverse than ever. And we need, as the Secretary General said, your youth and your energy. We need the experience of all the tremendous young Americans here so that our country can thrive and be the best it can be in this complicated, interwoven planet we share. And we need the passion and commitment of all the young people here from other countries so that the world can seize the opportunities of a new century. We need young people of every race, religion, creed preparing to take over from me and my colleagues at all of your countries’ missions and behind every one of these placards, to help chart our course forward together. We need each and every single one of you to perform to your fullest potential. And to my fellow Americans out there, here’s a basic truth: if we’re not drawing upon the full diversity of our national experience, and all of the elements that together constitute the fabric of our national society, then we’re playing in a complicated world with one hand tied behind our back, and we aren’t showing the world who we really are as a 21st century nation.
We need all of you to make your mark. So please stay engaged. Get the very best education you can. Be fearless. Travel the world. Learn as many other languages as you can. Get out of your comfort zone. And get service in your soul.
Let me conclude with this. I truly believe each of you can do whatever you set out to do. You may not always be able to see how you’re going to get from here to your dreams. But you really can do big things. Just begin by figuring out what you are passionate about, figure out how you want to contribute, and go for it. Don’t ever, ever let anyone tell you that you can’t. It won’t always be easy. But just stretch yourself a little more, a little further every day to do more and do better. You can get there. You truly will.
We believe in you. We’re counting on you. So show us what you’ve got.
Thank you very much.
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