CAMBRIDGE, MA--Secretary-General Kofi A. Annan urged MIT graduates today to assume a leadership role in maintaining the United States' support of the United Nations.
Delivering the principal address at MIT's 131st commencement exercises, Mr. Annan, an MIT Sloan Fellow in 1971-72, told the 2,000 graduates, their guests, MIT faculty and administratorS gathered at Killian Court:
"For you, I have a special plea. Your country, the world's most powerful, even now is debating its future role in the world community and the place of the United Nations within that overall foreign policy vision.
"I call upon you to work indefatigably to anchor the United States to the course of internationalism, to its historic mission as an agent of progressive change and the rule of law, equal opportunity, and the irreducible rights of all individuals. The need is pressing; the moment is now. Let us continue the productive partnership between the United States and the United Nations and go forward together with a positive, can-do attitude toï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½win the new peace andï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½prosperity that beckons."
Mr.ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½Annan,ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½who took office in January and will serve a five-year term as Secretary-General, said he would announce reform plans next month that "compare favorably with any such reforms yet undertaken by anyï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½public sector organization, anywhere."
"We seek a United Nations that willï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½view change as a friend, not change for its own sake but change that permits us to do more by doing it better," he said. "We seek a United Nations that is leaner, more focused, more flexible and more responsive to changingï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½global needs. We seek a United Nations that is organized around its core competencies vis-a-vis other internationalï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½organizations and an ever-more robust global civil society."
Mr. Annan, a native of Ghana who received an SM from the Sloan School in 1972, drew several parallels between the goals and the tactics of international diplomacy and scientific research. Both fields, he said, use reason to engage the forces of unreason. Both are experimental and learn by trial and error. Finally, both "speak a universal language and speak universal truths."
After listing the tragedies of the century, including two World Wars, the Holocaust and the massive killing in Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda, he noted the progressive steps achieved under the auspices of the UN, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention.
While much remains to be accomplished, he said, "only a decade ago the achievements I have enumerated seemed unimaginable. Now they are real."
Mr. Annan, who has been with the UN for more than 30 years, reminisced on his own days as an MIT student.
"At the outset," he said, "there was intense competition among my cohorts. Each was equally determined to shine and to demonstrate his leadership qualities. I say 'his' because there were no women among us; I am certainly glad that has changed.
"Walking along the Charles River one day in the middle of my first term, I reflected on my predicament. How could I possibly survive let alone thrive in this group of over-achievers? And the answer came to me most emphatically: Not by playing according to their rules. 'Follow your own inner compass,' I said to myself. 'Listen to your own drummer.' To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there. My anxieties slowly dissolved.
"What I took away from MIT, as a result, was not only the analytical tools but also the intellectual confidence to help me locate my bearings in new situations, to view any challenge as a potentialï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½opportunity for renewal and growth, to be comfortable in seeking the help of colleagues, but not fearing, in the end, to do things my way."