|"LEARN, UNLEARN, RELEARN" - MARK MALLOCH BROWN
15 May 2006
"It feels especially appropriate that my first commencement address as Deputy Secretary-General should be at NYU.
By way of a quick ride from the United Nations Headquarters, Iíve moved from the centre of international diplomacy
to a hub of international education.
NYU enjoys this status because the university, its future, its fortunes, and its very fabric are entwined with
this world city which gives it its name. And nowhere is this connection clearer than at the School of Continuing
and Professional Studies. Of all the students at the many schools of NYU, the graduates gathered in this hall
provide the University with its most tangible, most real connection to the city.
For you are the part of NYU which exists not simply in the academic towers of Washington Square, but in the office
towers of midtown and the businesses of Brooklyn. You are simultaneously town and gown. You represent the city to
the University, and the University to the city.
NYU was founded as a university where the classical curriculum of older American colleges was to be balanced by a
more modern and practical education. An education to prepare individuals for a life of action, not just of the mind.
I doubt there is another part of this University that better prepares so broad an array of graduates for real life.
Indeed, by carrying on working while completing your degrees, many of you already lead two lives.
And this, ultimately, is why it is such an honour for me to be addressing you: the determination and initiative
required to pursue further studies and a career at the same time are qualities that I have long admired. They are
the qualities that prepare individuals to lead, and to succeed.
Alvin Toffler wrote that "the illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write,
but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn".
As a former chief of the UN Development Programme, I have a particular perspective on continuing education: that
of the countries of Southern Africa as they emerged from long and vicious civil wars. In places like Mozambique and
Namibia, many of todayís leaders spent their traditional university years in the bush as freedom fighters. Yet when
justice and democracy were established, many of the rebels went back to school.
In Mozambique, leaders in the interim Government worked by day and took courses by night. Former child soldiers
enrolled in primary school, thirty-something fighters hardened from years in the bush signed up for college,
Government ministers sought law degrees on the side.
Mozambique became, almost literally, a country governed by continuing education. The determination to learn
reflected a determination to rebuild. To put the war years behind them and to regain lost ground, Mozambicans
decided that it was never too late to learn, to go to school, to set a new course for themselves.
This passion and determination to learn sticks in my mind. It is what, to me, explains much of the countryís
extraordinary progress since the peace agreement. Today, the bombed-out shells of ambushed cars and abandoned,
bullet-marked buildings have been cleared away. The economy has consistently chalked up some of the highest growth
rates in the developing world. People have returned to the daily tasks of living. Children recite lessons in
humble, but operational schools, and corn grows in small, family farms that feed millions who depended for years on
In a lifetime of work for development, I have found -- over and over again -- that it is this ability and openness
to learn, to unlearn, and relearn when necessary, that characterizes success.
You are already ahead of your peers in terms of your predisposition to learning. I hope you will cultivate this
advantage, nurture it, act on it.
Your studies in NYUís classrooms should be the beginning, not the end, of a lifetime of learning.
If necessary, you should be ready to return to the classroom to retool or refocus. But the most important learning
may not be done in school. You need also to be ready to engage in the world beyond; to live in it, to travel it,
to work in it and to experience it. You should develop a bias in favour of thinking globally, even when acting
My own continuing education has been based on this sense of global citizenship. A readiness to change countries
more often than jobs. To pick a general focus -- development -- and then practise it in all forms and in all places;
in the private sector and in the public sector; in Latin America and in Africa.
It is also this pursuit that has brought me to New York. For I am what E.B. White, in his classic essay, "Here Is
New York", called the third type of New Yorker: not a native, not a commuter, but a "person who was born somewhere
else and came to New York in quest of something". That something, in my case, is the opportunity to play a part in
the UNís worldwide mission of peace, development and human rights.
Among you today are the first batch of graduates of the Program for Global Affairs. It is right that NYU should
have such a programme, though I also know from many colleagues who have attended evening classes here that your
curriculum has always had a strong international bent. Still, Iím sure the Global Affairs graduates join me in
saying "about time!"
I hope you also share my identification with the UN and its mission.
Because whatever your field of study, the UNís work concerns all of you.
Consider the range of our activities and our expertise. We promote democracy and literacy. We fight corruption
and drugs. We check nuclear proliferation and combat bird flu.
All this is well known.
You might be surprised, however, to learn just how much the United Nations family does in areas that directly
affect many of those working in this city.
We encourage investment and trade. We protect copyrights. We help Governments open their markets, write
business-friendly legislation and ensure regulatory consistency. We try to ensure decent education and health
services for all.
In areas such as aviation, shipping, telecommunications and customs procedures, we set the technical standards
that make international transactions possible.
This is the vital "soft infrastructure" of the global economy. Whether you pursue interactive marketing or
travel management, information technology or sports business, this infrastructure will influence your career.
More than half a century ago a great New Yorker, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, made a passionate plea for
Americaís global engagement. "We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is
dependent on the well-being of other nations, far away", he declared. "We have learned that we must live as men, and
not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger. We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human
As New Yorkers -- whether by way of Brooklyn or Brazil, Staten Island or Spain -- and as graduates of this
University, you have a special obligation to heed this call. For in an era of global citizenship, you inhabit
what E.B. White called "the capital of everything" where one can "feel the vibrations of great times and tall deeds".
I have no doubt that in the years to come, you will create your own vibrations. No matter where you do so, I hope
youíll continue to represent not just the ideals of this University and the vibrancy of this city, but also the
exhortation of President Roosevelt.
That, ultimately, is the charge of global citizenship. And as I look around this hall, I feel confident that I
am in the presence of global citizens."