October 26, 2009 – In a special convocation held this afternoon in Meany Hall for the Performing Arts, the University conferred the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws upon Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations.
University of Washington President Mark A. Emmert presided over the ceremony, which was attended by Governor Christine Gregoire and Washington State Senator Paull Shin. Following the reading of the honorary degree citation by Regent William H. Gates, Secretary-General Ban was formally hooded. He then delivered the 2009 Severyns-Ravenholt Lecture, sponsored by the Department of Political Science.
The ceremony also featured musical performances by Gamelan Pacifica, a Seattle-based group that specializes in the gamelan music of Java, and Lora Chiorah-Dye and the Sukutai Mbira Ensemble, performing two traditional songs from Zimbabwe.
In his introductory remarks, President Emmert told the audience that the University of Washington is truly a global university, both in its student body and in the breadth of its global engagement. He highlighted the efforts of the Department of Global Health to eradicate infectious diseases worldwide and noted that the University was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Jackson School of International Studies.
Governor Gregoire also spoke briefly, pointing out that Washington’s prosperity was closely tied to its strong relationships with its international trading partners. She added that she would be travelling to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December to explain the efforts of state governors and mayors across the globe to tackle the issue of climate change.
Secretary-General Ban began his address on a humorous note, quoting “a great Seattle philosopher” who “once said, ‘Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.’” That philosopher, he then explained, was Jimi Hendrix. Mr. Ban spoke of being in a competition, nearly forty years ago, among students in Korea and other Asian nations, to win a full scholarship for China studies that was sponsored by the University of Washington. He was selected as the first runner-up and was told to wait and see if the first choice of the University accepted the scholarship. “They told me to wait – and I waited and waited and waited – forty years!”
Mr. Ban’s address focused on the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all people in resolving international problems. “America’s great strength,” he said,” is that its citizens trace their heritage to all corners of the world. Our stories are diverse but we hold our dreams in common. The United Nations, too, is based on a common dream – a pledge to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, to promote social progress and better standards of living and enlarged freedom.”
- The Secretary-General was kind enough to provide a transcript of his speech.
- Watch the special convocation and Ban Ki-moon accept his honorary Doctor of Laws degree on UWTV.
- View Ban Ki-moon’s Honorary Degree. (PDF)
- View Ban Ki-moon’s Citation for the Honorary Degree. (PDF)
- United Nations homepage.
- More about Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon from the United Nations.
Since 1945, he said, the United Nations has negotiated 170 peace agreements, helped establish over 500 multinational treaties, and aided more than 80 countries in achieving independence. Every day the UN feeds more than 100 million people and helps over 30 million refugees, mostly women and children. Over 115,000 peacekeepers have been deployed.
Global poverty is a primary concern. “I have repeatedly emphasized to world leaders that they must not leave the poor behind,” Mr. Ban said. He pointed out that issues such as the volatility of prices for energy, food insecurity, the flu pandemic, global recession and climate change show “how closely our fates are interlinked.” Such challenges, he said, demand that “all nations work together for common solutions.”
The Secretary-General noted that rights and responsibilities are also at the core of negotiations to resolve global climate change and rid the world of nuclear weapons.
Returning to the issues of poverty and social injustice, Mr. Ban said that peace and security lie in social progress, better standards of living, and greater freedom. “Hunger and poverty, inadequate shelter and sanitation, gross inequality and disrespect for human rights – they create political instabilities, civil unrest and failed states,” he said. He expressed particular concern with regard to maternal health, where, he stated, every minute a woman dies of complications during pregnancy, 200 million women lack access to safe, effective contraception, women are routinely victims of sexual violence, and “women are murdered for so-called ‘honor.’”
“Whenever and whereever women and girls are denied the same rights and opportunities as men and boys,” he proclaimed, “the United Nations must heed the call to action.
Addressing the students in the audience, Mr. Ban said, “I appeal to your energy, your optimism, your sense of justice, and innate hope.”
The UN leader closed by telling the audience how he grew up in war torn Korea and how the “UN helped us rebuild. It was our beacon of hope.” He urged everyone to “unite and work for a better world – a world where human rights are cherished and protected, a world where children do not go hungry, a world where girls and boys go to school and live healthy and prosperous lives.
“These are the dreams of the United Nations,” he said. “These are the rights of humankind. Let us all accept our responsibility to help every man, woman and child on earth. Let us all help to make these dreams become a reality.”
Secretary-General Ban’s remarks were enthusiastically received and, following a spirited performance by the Sukutai Mbira Ensemble, he departed the stage to heartfelt cheers and applause.