This story was originally published on March 2, 2010.
In front of a packed house at UCLA’s Kerckhoff Hall today, Chancellor Gene Block presented United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with the UCLA Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the campus.
The chancellor lauded Ban, the former foreign affairs minister of the Republic of Korea, for his distinguished contributions to international diplomacy and understanding.
“The secretary’s life,” Block said, “has been dedicated to building bridges between nations in the pursuit of peace and security for all citizens of this planet.”
Following the medal ceremony, Ban delivered the campus’s Bernard Brodie Distinguished Lecture on the Conditions of Peace, presented each year by the Burkle Center for International Relations.
Addressing the standing room–only audience in Kerckhoff's Charles E. Young Grand Salon, which included a bank of news cameras and reporters, he spoke of the UN’s efforts to mobilize citizens around the world to help address a host of critical global issues.
“I am here to enlist you in our mission,” he told the crowd, highlighting the need for action on issues related to climate change, the empowerment of women and the adoption of environmentally sound development principles.
Directing his message primarily to the younger people in attendance, he urged them to “go forth to change the world. You are going to be the leaders of society.”
Ban, who became the UN’s eighth secretary-general in 2007, also told of his first visit to the United States, when, as a student in 1962, he won an essay contest sponsored by the Red Cross and was awarded an extended trip to the U.S., including a visit with President John F. Kennedy.
The experience was influential, Ban said, in inspiring him to forge a career in international diplomacy. “How can I contribute?” he recalled asking himself at the time.
Ban went on to a long career in public service, serving as an adviser to the South Korean president on foreign policy and national security and holding foreign service posts in India, the U.S. and Austria before becoming foreign affairs minister. He also played a key role in denuclearization talks with North Korea in 1992 and 2005.