By CARL BARBATI, Contributing Writer
But, it was his hushed comments on the future aimed at the many students in the audience that brought the already-attentive crowd to a real silence.
“Your generation is the first that can legitimately call yourselves citizens of the world,” Annan said.
“Struggles and turmoils in recent years have underlined just how small a planet this has become. For your generation, something that happens in one part of the world has an instant effect on you.”
The 2001 Nobel Peace Prize winner urged the students to think beyond their own national borders and to embrace suffering people in other parts of the world as if they were local neighbors.
“My young friends, don’t let me down,” he said at the APril 13 forum. “I, for one, have every confidence in you.”
Annan’s visit marked the final Drew Forum presentation of this academic year, and he had the distinction of being this year’s Thomas H. Kean Visiting Lecturer.
Kean, the former New Jersey governor and former president of Drew University, was in attendance for Koffi’s appearance, and current Drew president Robert Weisbuch recounted an exchange that occurred before Annan took the stage.
“Secretary-General Annan asked Governor Kean, ‘What ever happened to political leaders like you’?” Weisbuch said.
Kean, by far the most popular former governor according to polls, acknowledged the audience applause. Then Weisbuch turned things over to Annan, who began his talk with an insightful anecdote about the perfect spring weather that evening.
He said it was a stark difference from the ice and snow he faced on his last visit to New Jersey, which, in turn, had reminded him of his first encounter with cold weather when he came from the African nation of Ghana to study in Minnesota.
“We did not have four seasons where I came from,” Annan said. “We only had two seasons, wet and dry.”
He saw others in Minnesota wearing earmuffs and he thought they looked ridiculous and that he would never wear them. But, one day when the temperature was minus-30 degrees, he changed his tune and went out and bought the heaviest pair he could find. “I remember this experience and it taught me a lesson that carried over into my work at the United Nations,” Annan said. “You don’t walk into a situation and think you know better than the natives. You don’t. They know better.”
Born in Ghana in 1938, Annan’s first U.N. job came in 1962 when he began work for the World Health Organization in Geneva. For the next 35 years, he held many different U.N. positions before he became the first person from a black African nation to serve as Secretary-General, from 1997 to 2006.
‘True In 1945’
At Drew, he cited the U.N.’s founding in 1945, which, he said, was based on the idea that “the security of everyone is linked to that of everyone else,” adding that “if it was true in 1945, then how much more true is it today?”
Again and again, Annon returned to his theme that a worldview is now more important than ever. “Governments must be accountable for their actions in the global arena as well as in their own states,” he said.
“The most powerful states have the most responsibilities to include the less powerful in their decisions. Security comes from respect for human rights. We all share in this, governments and individuals. We must care for other people’s human rights, no matter where they live on the planet. That is what will lead to security for everyone.”
In addition to his encouragement to work together, Annon also had some words of criticism for both the U.N. and the United States.
Regarding the former, he said the U.N.’s powerful Security Council “reflected the political realities of 1945, but not of today.”
And, he said “the U.N. cannot achieve its goals when the United States remains aloof.”
By virtue of its power and wealth, he said, the U.S. holds a unique place in the world and should take more of a leadership role in the U.N.
“The greater the prestige, the greater the responsibility,” Annan said. “We have to give all citizens, no matter where they live or what they look like, at least a fair chance to share in the prosperity.”