'Remember That Little Boy'
UN ambassador urges the class of 2010 to fight global inequities.
Photo: Linda A. Cicero
In her Commencement address, Ambassador Susan E. Rice called on graduates to redress the world's disparities, whereby "some of us live in peace, freedom and comfort while billions are condemned to conflict, poverty and repression." Rice, '86, the U.S. permanent representative to the U.N. and former assistant secretary of state for African affairs, stressed that inequality isn't just wrong; it can incubate threats to security everywhere. She went on to explain why she is driven to work for change.
One of those reasons is a little boy whom I met in war-ravaged Angola in 1995. I don't even know his name. He was one face in a friendly mob of destitute little kids who greeted our delegation at a dusty camp for internally displaced persons in the middle of nowhere. He was perhaps 3 or 4 years old, with pencil-thin legs and a distended belly, and only a torn T-shirt to wear. But he stood out because he had the most amazingly infectious smile. I walked up to him before realizing that the only thing I had to give him was the worn baseball cap I was wearing. I took it off and put it gently on his head. The joy on his face remains etched in my mind to this day. But I had to leave that camp, and when I did, I left that little boy in hell.
I like to think—and I sure hope—that kid is OK. But he could well have become one of the 9 million children under the age of 5 who die each year, mostly from preventable and treatable afflictions. Yet he has every right to live with the same dignity, hope and security that my own son enjoys. They are both children of God, of equal worth, equal consequence and equal rights.
That child deserves a world without the poverty that crushes the dreams of hundreds of millions. Half of humanity lives on less than $2.50 a day.
That child deserves a world without extreme hunger and dependence that it fosters. So we are investing in building poor countries' capacity to feed themselves. Agricultural research has produced stronger crops that yield more, adapt faster and better resist drought, disease and pests. Yet Africa's crop production remains the lowest in the world. With your generation's leadership and ingenuity, you can make it the highest.
That child deserves a world where everyone can get a quality education. More than 70 million kids are not enrolled in primary school today, and 60 percent of them are girls. You can help close this gap—by joining Teach for America here at home or the Peace Corps abroad, by providing lunches for rural girls' schools, by working to end child labor, forced marriage and human trafficking, and by creating educational systems that reach all of our children.
That child deserves a world in which we find new cures for old plagues. You can be the generation to develop new vaccines for tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, to use nanotechnology to create smart therapies that kill cancer cells and leave their healthy neighbors untouched, to provide needle-free immunizations to stop pandemics in their tracks.
That child also deserves a world whose climate isn't collapsing, whose air isn't choked by soot—and whose waters aren't polluted with spewing oil. Imagine deploying clean-energy technologies to poor countries to power development without fossil fuels—much as China and Africa largely skipped landlines and leapfrogged to cell phones. You can be the generation that makes a green economy reality—that turns the fight against climate change into a boon for the developing world, not just a burden. You can be the generation that actually reverses global warming.
That child, and every child, deserves a world of greater opportunity, democracy and hope. And that is the world you can help forge.
As you go about changing the world, continuously challenge yourselves. Get out of your comfort zone. Go travel the world we share. Learn more languages. Get grit in your eyes, and sand in your hair, and service in your soul.
Graduating from Stanford is great, but it's just the beginning.
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