Samantha Power Advocates for Democracy in HKS Commencement Speech

HKS Class Day Speaker
Samantha J. Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, describes the meaning of Democracy both in the U.S. and the world at the Harvard Kennedy School Class Day.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha J. Power encouraged the 565 students graduating from the the Kennedy School of Government this week to spread the ideals of democracy across the globe during her speech at the school’s commencement exercises on Wednesday.

“Go out there graduates, and use the tools you now have to fix these problems,” Power said. “Help make democracy work better here and abroad.”

Wearing a winter coat due to the 50-degree weather, she discussed the challenges facing democracy today, citing examples from Ukraine, Venezuela, and the Arab Spring.


“Your challenge is to ensure that democracy expands, deepens, and delivers,” Power told graduates. “It’s our own relentless inch-by-inch effort to ‘form a more perfect Union’ that allows us to stand credibly and passionately for democracy and human rights abroad.”

Power said that throughout history, democratic institutions have allowed citizens to take agency in bettering their lives.

“True democracy, complete with checks and balances, offers what no other system can,” said Power, whose speech elicited a standing ovation from the crowd of graduates and their families. “If you give people the tools to correct the parts of their government that are broken, as only democracy can…they will seize them.”

Power, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, is a familiar face at Harvard. After graduating from the Law School in 1999, she served as a professor and founding executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School. Power gave the Law School’s Class Day address in 2010 and is married to University professor Cass R. Sunstein ’75, whom she met while working on President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Power assumed the post of U.S. Ambassador to the UN in August 2013, where she “works to advance U.S. interests, promote and defend universal values, and address pressing global challenges to global peace, security, and prosperity,” according to the State Department’s website.

During his introductory remarks, Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood ’75 praised Power’s “remarkable career,” calling her “a true scholar” and “an extraordinary public servant.”

Students graduating from the Kennedy School will receive their diplomas on Thursday at John F. Kennedy Park after the conclusion of the morning exercises in the Yard.

Recent Kennedy School commencement speakers include Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of the social service organization Harlem Children’s Zone, Christine M. O. Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and University professor Paul E. Farmer.

—Staff writer Dev A. Patel can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @dev_a_patel.


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