ITC Executive Director commencement speech - Graduate Institute's class of 2019 (en)
After all those late nights studying, long hours researching, liters of coffee and also some partying, you and those who have supported you along this journey can finally celebrate your success at graduating from this prestigious institution.
Go ahead, give yourselves a great big applause – you deserve it!
I can see many of you, rightly so, smiling from ear to ear, probably thinking “finally, no more coursework”. At the same time, I know some of you have already started asking yourselves some of life’s really BIG questions:
“how can I use the knowledge and credentials gained here to land my dream job?”
“how long will it take to get my foot in the door to my future?”
“will I have to move back home with my parents until I find this aforementioned door?”
Now I don’t know all the secrets to unlocking success, but I know a tricks.
First. Set goals for yourselves. Specific ones. With clear timelines.
Second, Go after them with every resource available to you.
Third. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t achieve everything you wanted by when you wanted.
And fourth, enjoy the ride and don’t only focus on the destination.
Having goals serve as a compass to know where you’re headed and will give you much-needed purpose and direction on your life journey.
At the International Trade Centre, our compass is the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, comprised of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
With the global alarm clock for achieving the SDGs set to the year 2030, these goals address the global challenges we are facing – many of which you are familiar through your recent studies at the Graduate Institute – including those related to eradicating extreme poverty; addressing income inequality; ending gender discrimination; protecting our planet; fostering trade cooperation; improving health and well-being; and promoting peace and justice.
Arriving at these global goals was not an easy task. Yet, in 2015, 193 different countries, with different cultures and languages met together for what seemed to be an inexhaustible number of months and hours. Once the goals were set, that then led to the even more challenging bit of having 193 countries working to achieve them.
Next year will mark a third of the way into the 2030 timeline. In some respects there have been heart-warming achievements and progress. In fact there are those who affirm that life has never been better than it is right now – a sentiment, I am sure resonates well with you all here today.
We live longer; we are healthier; we are less likely to die in childbirth; we are better educated; and even taller than ever before. More people are richer and less are living in dire poverty. Statistics indicate that over one billion fewer people are living in extreme poverty than in 1990.
This amazing tale of humankind’s progress is, however, not the only chapter in story. Sadly, in too many other areas of life: global carbon emissions, debt risks, gender discrimination, inequality between people and strained global cooperation are realities that the world is grappling with.
Global hunger has risen for the third year in a row. Today, over one billion people still lack access to water. More than half the world has limited or no access to the internet. As you all know much better than I do, internet connectivity is a powerful tool for human development – it makes voice and choice possible. The Internet should be accessible to everyone – but sadly it isn’t even available to the majority of us. Globally the majority of people, over 4 billion of them, have never uploaded a selfie; never “liked” or “unliked” as the case may be; never watched a cat video on YouTube; never read the news online or quickly googled some important fact – never done so many of the things we do as effortlessly as breathing.
And, I didn’t even mention that this digital divide impacts women the most acutely. Women in the developing world are 40 - 50% less likely to have Internet access than men.
Speaking of women, I am sure many of you may already be aware that the time forecasted to achieve gender equality keeps increasing: today it will take us 202 years to close the gender gap in global economic opportunity and participation.
My message to you today is a call to action. If you are still in search of your own goals, look at the Sustainable Development Goals for inspiration and start by asking “How do I want the world to be different?” If you start there, I know you will begin to identify personal and professional goals worthy of your intellect and talent.
Once you have identified the goals, then the real fun begins. Here, I offer three pieces of advice:
First, when you see them, step up to opportunities to play a part, including in partnership with others. You already have access to a strong pool of future partners from the body of the Graduate Institute alumni, of which you are all now members. Among the 84 of you graduating today – there is an abundance of talent, interests, passion and knowledge ranging from International Law, International Relations and Political Science to Economics, History and Anthropology and Sociology of Development.
Second, don’t beat yourselves up if you don’t achieve everything you wanted by when you wanted. The road to get to where you are going may twist and turn unexpectedly, making it difficult to hit every target at the pace you may have liked. Remember that “Someone's sits in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” You may not always reap what you sow immediately, but if you do it right and keep at it, the result will speak for itself in time.
And, third, enjoy the ride and don’t only focus on the destination. I love mountain climbing. I haven’t quite conquered Everest yet. I’m more of a Saleve type of hiker! This hobby has been quite instructive for my professional and personal development. I know that ultimately I want to get to the top and sometimes I even think I should conquer within a set time span. But, if any of you have ever climbed the spectacular 10,000 feet mountain to get to Tiger’s Nest cliff-side monastery in Bhutan, you would very quickly realize, as I did, that while getting to the destination yields an amazing sense of accomplishment, the slow – and I mean slow – trek up to the top is just as breathtaking and enjoyable.
Once you start to make decisions and take action towards achieving those gaols, I am confident that you will be the generation that made it possible for us, in 2030, to live in a healthier, better educated and more prosperous planet – a world without poverty; with increased equality, respect for human rights, justice, peace and security for all.
Graduates, you live in challenging times. Our pace of achieving global development goals is not equal to the gravity of the challenge – so there is so much out there for each of you to do. As the next generation of change-makers, I encourage you to set goals for yourselves and for the communities and countries that you will live in to tackle some of these challenges. Use your knowledge, experience and networks gained here for good. Support human rights. Be charitable with those less fortunate than you are. Be stewards of the environment. Be a positive force, not just for yourselves and your families, but for the global community of which you are a part. Remember, even the simplest of goals as well as the most impossible of goals matter.
Once set, keep in mind the words of Nelson Mandela, “it always seems impossible until it is done.” Every day counts, every graduate counts, every goal pursued and achieved matters.
On this note, Class of 2019, congratulations and every success for the future.