"Use your passion to make a difference," UN Secretary-General tells University of Sydney students

8 September 2011

Download video (mp4)

United Nations Secretary-General His Excellency Ban Ki-moon visited the University of Sydney on Thursday to discuss his priorities for the changing world with students, encouraging them to "think big" and make a difference in the world.

The Secretary-General's speech in the University's Great Hall was the only public lecture during his official visit to Australia, which came just after the conclusion of the International Year of Youth.

More than 500 students and guests crowded into the hall to hear the Secretary-General, who was South Korea's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade before becoming UN Secretary-General in 2007. Hundreds more gathered on the lawns in front of the Quadrangle to listen to an outside broadcast of the speech.

Mr Ban emphasised the importance of joint action by the international community to tackle the issues facing the world.

"These 21st-century challenges are too big for any country or region to solve alone," he told the audience. "The future belongs to those who act together to advance our common values."

He talked about the "revolution of hope" that has spread through North Africa and beyond, and said the world must act to help people threatened with extreme violence for exercising their basic rights. He said the people of Libya had "legitimate aspirations" to secure a better future.

Noting that the world was expecting the birth of its seven billionth citizen next month, Mr Ban described the need for sustainable development as the UN's most pressing agenda item in the 21st century.

There was a need, he said, to 'join the dots' and establish links between challenges such as climate change and water scarcity, energy shortages, global health issues, food insecurity and the empowerment of women.

The Secretary-General said he realised he had come to the right place to give his lecture the moment he stepped on to the University of Sydney campus - not just because of its historical tradition going back 150 years, but because this is a place that "will produce the future leaders of our world."

"Be bold. Be brave. Be courageous," he advised the student audience.

"Think big. The future is in your hands. Use your passion to make a difference - to be a part of something larger than yourself.

"Don't let the cynics hold you back. You can change the world."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon (centre) receives a gift from Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence (right) and Bachelor of Commerce student Matheus Yeo (left).
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon (centre) receives a gift from Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence (right) and Bachelor of Commerce student Matheus Yeo (left).

Mr Ban said he could think of no better place to spend the last full day of his trip to the region than with the young people of Australia. Australia was an integral part of the United Nations, he added, noting that the first president of the Security Council, Norman Makin, was an Australian.

"And your country's commitment goes back even further," he told the audience. "In many ways, it starts right here in this university."

One of the drafters of the UN Charter was a graduate of the University of Sydney - Herbert 'Doc' Evatt, who went on to become the president of the General Assembly.

"Doc Evatt was a global champion for advancing the rights and interests of smaller nations, and speaking up for social justice," Mr Ban said.

"Article 56 of the UN Charter - which underscores economic and social development and human rights - bears his distinct imprint. Thanks to his work, it is known as 'the Australian pledge'."

Following the speech the Secretary-General responded to questions from students, led by Hitesh Chugh, a third-year undergraduate majoring in Government and International Relations and Political Economy.

Hitesh, the current President of the Sydney University United Nations Society, asked how the UN could address the new generation of threats and challenges posed by the 21st century, many of them with cross border impact, in the face of continued scepticism about the UN's mandate.

Mr Ban responded that the goals of the UN had not changed since it was formed, but many leaders around the world had failed to keep their word and adhere to the principles of democracy.

"The responsibility of leaders to protect their people is their fundamental responsibility," he said.

In welcoming the Secretary-General, University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence said the University shared much of the DNA of the UN, with its global outlook, record of community service, and commitment to tackling world problems such as global health, food security and sustainability.

He presented Mr Ban with a red University of Sydney jumper to mark his visit to the University.

Before the Secretary-General's speech, Uncle Charles 'Chika' Madden (a Gadigal elder) gave a Welcome to Country speech from the stage of the University's Great Hall. Uncle Chika was followed by the Freeman Dancers, who under the leadership of University student Talara Freeman, performed traditional dances from the Wiradjuri Nation.

Student Hitesh Chugh, current President of the Sydney University United Nations Society.
Student Hitesh Chugh, current President of the Sydney University United Nations Society.

Follow University of Sydney Media on Twitter

Media enquiries: Ben Wilson, 0402 128 073,

Katie Szittner, 0478 316 809,