A capacity crowd in the Life Sciences Auditorium, including Rep. Maxine Waters, saw Ban recognized for his humanitarian accomplishments; dedication to the work of the United Nations, his country and the citizens of the world; and his commitment to promoting peace and providing service and relief to those in need.
Ban was born in the Republic of Korea in 1944. He described his childhood as a refugee during the outbreak of the Korean War and how he saw the United Nations become a lifeline for the Korean people.
“I was one of what we call now internally displaced persons,” Ban said “We didn’t have anything to eat, nothing to wear. All the schools were destroyed. I saw my village burning.” The United Nations stepped in, providing relief in the form of food, clothing, water, milk and vegetables. To him and others the United Nations was seen as a beacon of hope. “I was one of the beneficiaries,” Ban said.
In an era when a refugee crisis is a global concern, he sometimes finds himself assuring victims that he can understand their plight, “I was you, and now you are now me.”
Ban, who will complete his second and final term in office on Dec. 31, 2016, is the eighth secretary-general of the United Nations. His priorities have been to mobilize world leaders around a set of global challenges, including climate change, economic upheaval, pandemics including Ebola, and the increasing pressures involving food, energy and water. He has sought to be a bridge-builder, to give voice to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, and to strengthen the organization itself.
The secretary-general also paid tribute to members of the LMU community who, he said, shared values he pursues in his work. Ban praised the Global Press Institute, which trains women who live in developing countries in journalism skills. Founded in 2006 by Cristi Hegranes ’03, the organization operates in 27 countries. He also singled out the work in South Sudan by Jok Maduk Jok, who is a professor of history and has founded education organizations and devoted himself to the preservation of his native country’s cultural life.
Ban also described the importance he places on his friendship with Tom Plate, Distinguished Scholar of Asian and Pacific Studies how leads LMU’s Asia Media International, an online publication that covers Asia news and is run by students. Plate interviewed Ban extensively for his 2012 book about the secretary-general titled “Conversations with Ban Ki-moon: What the United Nations Is Really Like.”
His friendship with Plate, Ban said, goes back decades to when he served as a diplomat in South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the government of dictator Park Chung-hee. Plate, then a Los Angeles Times journalist, was critical of the Park regime. Despite their differences of opinion then, a friendship took root. His relationship with Plate teaches him important lessons today, Ban said, when he criticizes governments for their policies. “I regret I was wrong,” he said of his work as a government official. “I was defending my country only to defend my president.”
The secretary-general closed his address with advice for the students among the audience: “Whatever profession you may choose, do something good for others. Let us reach out to the vulnerable and excluded people. Let us do our duty as global citizens: to leave no one behind.”