Good morning, everyone. It’s really great to be here at Harry S Truman High School. I’m so pleased to have this chance, and thank you for the warm welcome.
Thank you, Congressman, for your introduction and for inviting me to Harry S Truman.
You know, Congressman Crowley, for the warm and outgoing and gregarious man that he is, he does everything he possibly can for the people of his great district and this city—for the people of this community and your school. But he is also somebody who has been a great leader on the global stage. And he’s long been an advocate for human rights around the world, particularly in Burma, a very troubled country in Asia. And there he’s worked to ensure, as he has everywhere, that women and children have access to health care and services that they need—and so he is really on the cutting edge of doing what is right. Not only for Americans here at home but for people around the world.
I also want to thank Principal Nasser for welcoming me. Dr. Nasser, you have self-evidently led a really wonderful school and a great group of young people.
I want to just say a few words briefly at the outset, and then leave some time for us to have a good conversation. But let me tell you a little bit first, though, about who I am and what I’m doing.
I was born and raised in Washington, DC. I was a pretty serious student, but I also played varsity tennis and basketball and I wasn’t so straight that I didn’t have my share of fun. I was the student body president and I graduated at the top of my high school class. And then I went to college out in California at Stanford University. Which is a great place—I recommend it for any of you who might want to check it out.
After college, I went to graduate school in England at Oxford University and I got my Masters and PHD in International Relations. And then a few years after that, I was really privileged to join President Clinton's Administration, where I went to work at the White House, at the National Security Council, and that’s the first time I really started working on issues related to the United Nations. I spent about four and a half years at the White House, I was responsible for UN issues and peacekeeping and then I ran the Africa office at the White House and the National Security Council. And then in President Clinton’s second term I went over to the State Department and I was the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.
In this whole process, as the Congressman said, I really got hooked on public service. The Harry S Truman fund that he mentioned to you that I got to use to help fund me at Stanford and at Oxford, is—it still exists—a scholarship for young people committed to careers in public service. So for those of you who think you may want to go into careers in public service, that is an avenue that can help support you as you go on and continue your education. And it has been a wonderful opportunity to be able to serve our country and to do the work that is so valuable to help try to protect innocent people who are vulnerable and to make the world a better place.
So a few years ago, when a young Senator named Barack Obama decided to run for President, I said, I have to be part of this. And I was privileged to join him as one of his senior foreign policy advisors. When he won the election in 2008, I was extremely fortunate when he appointed me the American Ambassador to the UN. And now I have an extraordinary opportunity every day to serve my country.
It’s demanding work—it’s often sometimes frustrating work, you’ve got to have a sense of humor to deal with 192 other countries with all of their different interests and issues—but I have to tell you, I love it. And it’s the greatest privilege I’ve ever had.
I know most of you are familiar with the United Nations. It was formed after World War II, the most destructive conflict in world history, when Harry Truman and other world leaders joined together and pledged to work to maintain international peace and security. And today, the UN is the only place on the planet where all 193 countries can come together to try to address the collective problems that we all face in the world.
The UN is more important today than it’s ever been because the way our world has changed, the problems that we face are increasingly the kind that can only be solved by countries working together. No one country, even one as powerful as our own, can tackle these challenges in isolation. Whether we’re talking about global warming, or poverty, or genocide, or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or pandemic disease, these are kinds of things—terrorism—that we need as many countries and as many people around the world working to solve if we are really going to crack the problem. And that’s why institutions like the United Nations, which is unique, are more valuable than ever.
So it may surprise you, but there are actually a lot of times when I’m sitting at the United Nations, scratching my head listening to yet another long speech, and I’m reflecting on why it is that this matters. Why the work that I do has any relevance. And I often think of young people like you. I am the mother of two kids and I am thinking all the time about what future we leave for you. And I know that’s how way President Obama thinks, I know that’s how Congressman Crowley thinks, and we are thinking and, in fact, fighting everyday for you so that the world you inherit is safer, more secure, and more prosperous.
Newt week, President Obama makes his annual trip to the United Nations. And all leaders from around the world come to New York City and to the United Nations for a week of intense meetings and high-level negotiations. And what they discuss and decide will, in fact, have real world implications. We’re going to talk about Libya, we are going to talk about how to fight corruption and increase transparency. We are going to talk about issues like nuclear safety and security. And we are going to deal with crises like the famine in Somalia and the Horn of Africa.
But as world leaders meet to do what they can, the truth of the matter is that we need each of you to do your part as well. We need all of you down the road, all of you at Harry S Truman High School, to become yourselves—independent thinkers and leaders. We need each of you to make the most of your own individual talents. And we need every one of you to dream and to plan to do very big things.
I know some of you are either applying to college or getting ready to apply to college. Thinking about what you want to do next and hopefully you will all think about a career in public service.
But in any case, I encourage you to approach your education as an act of patriotism. We need you, your country needs you, whether you become engineers who develop alternative energy solutions to protect our environment and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, or whether you become scientists who will find cures for diseases like HIV/AIDS. Or whether you become lawyers, public servants or, God bless you, I hope many of you will become teachers to bring up the next generation. We need all of you as we need to come together as a stronger, better, more educated, more innovative nation to tackle the world’s challenges.
Now, it’s possible, but some of you may not yet have perfect academic records up until now, but I want to underscore something that President Obama has said—when he spoke to the young people like you. He 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 the next time.”
He said, “If you get in trouble, that doesn't mean you're a troublemaker; it means you need to work harder to behave. And if you get a bad grade, that doesn't mean you're a bad student or stupid; it just means you need to spend more time and study a bit harder.”
So I just want to say, I know that each and every one of you can actually do what you set out to do. You can each do big things and you’ve just got to begin by figuring out what you are passionate about; what you really want to fight for; where you personally can contribute the most. And then you’ve just got to go for it. Don’t ever, ever let anyone tell you that you cannot do it, because they don’t know. Only you know what you can do.
And never, ever, say never, because the fact is, we are all counting on you, we believe in you, we need you to succeed so we want you to just keep showing us what you’ve got. Be the champions that Truman has already proved to be.
Thank you so much.
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