Graduates in the Form of 2018 are part of a generation that can—and must—change the world.
Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka—undersecretary general of the United Nations, executive director of UN Women, and former deputy president of South Africa—expressed hope and high expectations when she addressed Groton School’s 133rd commencement, known as Prize Day, imploring Groton's graduates to tackle the world’s most entrenched problems.
This generation is the first with “a real possibility to end extreme poverty in the world,” the first “with a possibility to change gender relations,” and “the last generation with a possibility to save the planet,” Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka said.
As part of the largest generation of young people ever, 1.8 billion strong, “you are a power bloc," she told the graduates, "which means you can be a force for change in the world." Citing young, effective activists such as Nobel Prize winner Malala Zousafzai and the teens in Parkland, Florida, who began the #neveragain movement against gun violence, she said, "Right now, young people are leading extraordinary movements around the world.” She also pointed to what happens when young people don’t show up, explaining that many young voters in the United Kingdom regret not casting a ballot against Brexit.
Today's pressing global challenges align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015 and intended to work toward peace, protecting the planet, bringing prosperity to more people, and balancing power relations between the genders. “We now only have twelve years left to achieve these goals, which means much of their success also depends on you as young people, working with determined adults and leaders,” she said.
Beyond fighting for gender equity and equal pay, the speaker took time to focus on the prevalence of child marriage, surprising many listeners with the fact that only three states in the U.S. outlaw it. She stressed the importance of men embracing feminism and urged the males in the Prize Day tent to join UN Women’s HeforShe movement, through which males support gender equality.
As if to lift the weight of the world, at least momentarily, Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka also assured the graduates, “You must also enjoy being young . . . We are not asking you to be a saint. We are just asking you to be good human beings, to be kind, to care for others, but also to have fun.”
Still, her conclusion was a call to action: “You are a generation that can change the world. You have the power, the technology, the numbers. Go out now and fulfill the mission of your generation."