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Meeting Our Responsibilities as Global Citizens

Meeting Our Responsibilities as Global Citizens

19 January 2012

(As prepared for delivery)

Ambassador Susman:    Thank you Professor Gregson for that very generous introduction -- and to everyone here at Queen’s, I am grateful for your warm hospitality.

Admiration and praise is due to Sir Peter and all those associated with Queen’s for their leadership and commitment to building academic excellence throughout this outstanding university.

A university that is integral to the political and cultural traditions of this island.

A university with a long-standing record of excellence in the study of America -- including the exciting new American History Colloquium.

And a university with proud contemporary links to the United States -- as evidenced by your collaboration with Georgetown University in Washington DC. 

A partnership that has resulted in significant advancements in cancer research -- bringing life-changing benefits to people across the world.

This relationship is another example of the strong, long-standing associations between the United States and Northern Ireland.

Associations built on our shared history and heritage, our shared culture, and our shared values that bring a notable depth and warmth to the ties binding us.

Being an avid golfer, I have to say however that this warm relationship is in danger of turning a little frosty if your guys don’t let up on us once in a while.

Though even I had to laugh when -- immediately after Darren Clarke won the British Open -- Graeme McDowell tweeted: “The first Irish golfer to win a Major in almost four weeks.”

This is my fifth time in Belfast since being appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James.

On one of those visits, I had the great pleasure to come to Queen’s with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as part of her continuing personal interest in the future of Northern Ireland.

A future, which I am bound to say, is incredibly bright.

Today, the people here are more optimistic and outward looking, and the economy more diverse and resilient.

Clearly, Northern Ireland is now a better place to live and to do business.

That is a credit to all those who have taken risks for peace -- not least the thousands of ordinary citizens who were determined to end the Troubles.

I am proud to say that the United States stood shoulder-to-shoulder with those individuals and  those communities working for a better Northern Ireland.

Both President Clinton and Secretary Clinton – from way back when she was First Lady -- invested enormous emotional and political capital in securing peace here.

I can say that every time I am with Secretary Clinton now, she asks how things are going – such is her abiding interest in Northern Ireland.

And there is no praise high enough for the efforts of my good friend Senator George Mitchell – as you know, a former Chancellor of Queen’s and a man dedicated to peace around the world.

Over the years, the U.S. commitment to Northern Ireland has been considerable -- and it is ongoing.

Special envoys, diplomats, business leaders, and others have devoted their efforts in support  of full devolution, a dynamic economy, and those working towards a shared future.

And I am pleased to be back, not only to reaffirm that commitment but also to reflect on the continued progress being made here.

Indeed, one of the joys in being Ambassador is the chance to visit this vibrant region -- and to meet and talk with smart, enthusiastic and energetic students who represent its future.

With all the immense challenges that we face in the world today, the need for young people to express their hopes and aspirations is more important than ever.

We need your passion and your ideas.  We need you to make your mark.  We need you to make a difference.

Obviously, that starts with your formal education and taking full advantage of the benefits of the first-class teaching here at Queen’s, which will help prepare you for your future careers and endeavors.

But keep in mind that some of the greatest lessons often take place outside the lecture theater.

From the people you meet, the places you go, and the experiences you have.

I have learned from my interactions with students that now is the time when you are trying to find your voice, and trying to understand your place in the world.

Soon enough, you will be leaders in businesses, law, education, and perhaps even government.

What I want to emphasize this afternoon, however, is that my generation does not just see you as leaders of tomorrow, but as leaders of today.

While I am far from being an expert on Facebook and Twitter, you -- the internet generation -- are already interacting with the world through social media in a way that my generation just didn’t have the chance to when we were at university.

You have the opportunity to involve yourself fully in today’s inter-connected world.

That is so important.  Because issues like the economy, security, climate change and poverty affect us all -- wherever we live, whatever our faith; whether we are rich or poor, learned or uneducated, old or young.

No longer are we immune or isolated from events elsewhere around the world.

The banking crisis of 2008 taught us that what happens in the financial sector of one country, affects the economies of every country.

Likewise, the painful lesson of global terrorism is that it does not just cross moral boundaries but international ones too -- and so is a threat to us all.

We know that pollution from a coal-fired power station in Asia alters the weather in Europe; or that toxic waste dumped in the sea off South America kills marine life off the coast of Australia.

And if we don’t help the world’s poorest, then we don’t just fail morally, we will pay the price in increased terrorism, crime, mass migration, and environmental devastation.

Our complex and interrelated world means, therefore, that we all share an interest in overcoming the global challenges that face us -- and no one has a greater stake in the outcome than you do.

So one of the challenges for your generation is to take on and meet the challenges of today.

As President Obama recognized in his landmark speech in Cairo, young people “more than anyone; have the ability to re-imagine the world, to remake this world”.

No example of that is greater than the events we have witnessed in the Arab Awakening.

In Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere young people like you --with incredible courage and dignity, are leading revolutions.

They have faced intimidation, oppression, and violence but they have stood firm -- determined to take control of their destinies.

As they do so, they are rejecting the corrupt voices of autocrats and the dark voices of violent extremists.

These inspiring young people have started to change their countries and -- with that -- the region, and -- with that -- the world.

Certainly, there are anxieties around these momentous events.

But I believe that young people in these countries have the talent and drive to build enduring democracies and resilient economies.

It will take time, effort, and patience to achieve their goals -- and the challenge, indeed the responsibility, for youth in the Arab world now is to transform protest into leadership.

As Northern Ireland’s remarkable political journey shows: when ordinary citizens and their communities take a lead, no problem is insurmountable.

Be inspired by the communities in the Alexandra Park area of North Belfast, who are confronting issues of division and segregation.

Or be inspired to get involved by someone like President Obama.

He came from a modest family and a broken home.  But by studying hard, applying himself, and following his dreams, he ended up graduating from Columbia -- one of the top universities in America.

Harvard, then big jobs and six-figure salaries awaited him.

But he chose a very different route to start with.  He decided to become a community organizer.

He recognized the value of trying to make a difference in a community that he felt had been left behind.

As a young graduate, Barack Obama was trying to do something worthwhile for society.

Today as President, he believes in the leadership of youth just as strongly.

It’s one of the reasons behind the strong emphasis America places on exchange programs and scholarships.

Educational exchanges  offer journeys of discovery that promote the kind of mutual respect and mutual understanding essential in today’s tumultuous world.

We are committed to sustaining and strengthening them.

To that end, I pay tribute to the Office of the First and deputy First Minster for their ongoing support for the Washington-Ireland Program.

Since 1995, it has given hundreds of local students the chance to work with many of America’s leading politicians, non-profit organizations, advocacy firms, and media outlets.

In a similar vein, the British Council deserves praise for its stewardship of Study Abroad USA.

This program has allowed many local undergraduates to study for a year at smaller colleges across the U.S.

There is also the Fulbright Scholarships – and I am pleased that we have six American Fulbrighters currently at Queens.   

And, of course, the Mitchell Scholars program connects generations of future American leaders to this island, while fostering intellectual achievement, and a commitment to community and public service.

I should also acknowledge the International Visitor Leadership Program -- the Department of State’s flagship professional exchange scheme focusing on politics, government, media, business, education, and the arts.

Hundreds of alumni of these programs – and there may be some of you here this afternoon -- now regard them as life-changing experiences.

Now, I am not suggesting things are easy or that you don’t have anxieties as individuals that are a little closer to home.

You are all going to be graduating at a time of great uncertainty.  Everything may seem unsettled, unclear, and intimidating even.

Faith in many of the old certainties of the past is being questioned.  Basic things like, ‘Will I get a good job?’; ‘Can I afford to buy a home?’, ‘Will I do better than my parents?’

I’m sure these are questions on the minds of some of you in this audience.

It is obvious to me, that our countries will only be as strong in this new century as the opportunities provided to your generation to find answers to such questions.

We cannot afford to allow your generation to fall behind.

History teaches us that countries prosper most when they unlock the potential of all their citizens -- especially their young people.

Here in Northern Ireland, the U.S. consulate supports a major mentoring program that places local young people with American companies for a year of leadership and business development training.

I am also impressed to see the incredible dedication of members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, who have put historic differences aside and come together to work for the common good of young people. 

From my conversations, I am aware of the resounding commitment to education, job creation, trade and investment, and partnerships with business -- particularly in those sectors that will drive growth in the global economy, such as creative industries and biotechnology.

The key to continued progress is to keep looking outward.  Because I believe that turning inwards is both cynical and counter-productive -- for Northern Ireland and for the United States.

Retreating from the world, or refusing to undertake our global responsibilities, will undermine our values and interests across the board.

On the other hand, if we meet our responsibilities then we will reap the reward of greater global prosperity and security.

Not only that -- as globalization and modern technology makes the world increasingly inter-connected, I believe that we simply cannot be bystanders.

We have to play our part.

So I encourage you not to be onlookers -- but to be players.  To engage fully with your world.  To see the challenges faced by the global community as your challenges.

Half a century ago, in his famous inaugural address, President Kennedy, declared that the ‘torch has been passed to a new generation’.

I believe we are now witnessing a similar shift.  And nothing inspires me more than knowing that young people all across the world are ready to receive the torch.

Many are already making their marks.

My message today is that you do not have to wait to make a difference.  Your world needs your leadership.

The question is: will you meet that challenge and help create a better world for yourselves, your families, and your country?  I am betting you will.

So good luck and thank you very much.

Ambassador Susman in N. Ireland