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The rain which drizzled throughout the early morning hours today let up in time for United Nations Secretary-General and 2001 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Kofi Annan to urge members of the Class of 2004 to renew America’s commitment to a rule-based international system, in his Commencement address in Tercentenary Theatre.
Annan described a “triple crisis” that “has challenged the U.N. as a system and the U.S. as a global leader,” namely the crises of collective security, damaged international solidarity, and intolerance among different cultures and faiths.
“Enlightened American leadership” is necessary, Annan said, to give multilateral institutions—such as the U.N.—the ability to address these issues, and greater cooperation among nations is essential to combatting challenges such as world poverty and the spread of infectious diseases.
“A rule-based system is in the interest of all countries, especially today, because globalization makes deadly weapons relatively easy to attain and terrorists relatively difficult to restrain,” Annan said, regarding collective security.
Without explicitly referencing the current U.S. administration, Annan challenged various elements of American foreign policy, including the use of preemptive strikes in the war in Iraq.
“What kind of world would it be, and who would want to live in it, if every country was allowed to use force, without collective agreement, simply because it thought there might be a threat?” Annan said, to applause from the audience.
Annan said that the U.S.-led war in Iraq had also detracted from the global effort to raise living standards among the world’s poor.
“Whatever our views on Iraq, we never should have let it diverge our attention” from goals to combat world poverty, provide safe drinking water, increase access to primary education, reduce infant mortality, and stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, he said.
While Annan implicitly criticized the Bush administration for not promoting multilateralism, he emphasized America’s historic contributions to international cooperation—such as the Marshall Plan, through which the United States provided economic aid to rebuild Europe after World War II—and asked graduates in other countries to “look beyond facile stereotypes” of America.
Annan concluded his speech by imploring future U.S. leaders to “live up to America’s tradition of global commitment.”
Audience members expressed praise for Annan’s address.
“He’s always inspirational, very eloquent. Everyone in the audience was able to relate to [his speech],” Nina Niamkey ’04 said. “He told us to get back to what we already knew, he showed us how we’ve deviated from our original ideals.”
Annan’s speech followed University President Lawrence H. Summers’ address, which touched on the curricular review, the planned Allston campus, and the university’s commitment to stem cell research, but focused on University initiatives to promote equal access to higher education among people from all financial backgrounds.
“The evidence is overwhelming that inequality is increasing in our nation, and the transmission of inequality from generation to generation is increasing as well,” Summers said.
According to Summers, a child born in the poorest 10 percent of society has only a one-third chance of rising above the bottom 20 percent.
“The American dream has become more remote,” he said.
Summers emphasized the achievement gap between children from rich and poor families, as well as the disparity in access to a college education among children from advantaged and disadvantaged economic backgrounds.
Saying that “need-blind admissions is not enough,” Summers noted the College’s new financial aid program, by which parents who earn less than $40,000 will no longer be asked to contribute to the cost of their child’s Harvard education.
Summers called on Harvard’s “social scientists” to increase equal access to education in the U.S. public school system.
“The battle for America’s future will be won or lost in American public schools,” he said.
—Staff writer Tina Wang can be reached at email@example.com.
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