Richard Kutner comes back to UNIS to celebrate UN Day with the Middle School
Students of the Middle School, Teachers, Parents, and Administrators, good afternoon and Happy
United Nations Day. I am glad to be back at UNIS with so many of my former students and colleagues. This is an exciting and historic time in the UNIS Middle School. You have elected a Secretary-General for the Student Council for the first time. I am sure that you have taken the choice of the person you have voted for seriously, and I know that Rara will do a fine job.
The Secretary-General does important work. She will have to respond to your suggestions, come up with ideas, and show strong leadership. She will have many responsibilities and will need reflection, resourcefulness, and your support. Her actions will focus on making your life at UNIS better.
But there is more to think about than your own needs and wishes. We live in a world where there is constant conflict, where most people lack food and clean water and have substandard educational opportunities and serious health issues. Adults, through organizations like the UN and its many agencies, are trying hard to solve these problems, but they need your help. It is an obligation for you, your new Secretary-General, and your Student Council to think about ways to assist people in need around the world. I use the word “obligation” deliberately. All of you who now find yourselves in a safe and happy place should never forget those who are not so lucky. Just think of all the places right now where there are life-threatening situations.
Is this the world you would want to grow up in?
Before you can help others, you need to look at yourselves first. You attend a unique school--yes, “uniquely
UNIS.” But how are we unique and how can we use our uniqueness? In this school, we learn to think for ourselves, to look at issues from all sides and not to believe all that we hear or read just because someone else says so. We have students from around 120 countries, and we are taught beginning in Junior A to respect one another and to solve conflicts peacefully--things that are difficult for so many grown-ups and for
children in other schools. Our mission is to follow the guiding principles of the United Nations. That means that, as part of the UNIS community, each and every one of you is responsible for keeping this culture of
respect and peace in your mind at all times and for taking action to ensure that this culture is nurtured and develops as far as it can in the future. Practice tolerance and celebrate diversity. Just think about the amazing opportunity you have to learn from one another that children in other schools do not have.
If you understand and value what this school is really all about, you must do your best to ensure
that there is no ridicule, humiliation, exclusion, or bullying at UNIS. Why not try to do something really kind for someone in your grade whom you thought you’d never have anything to do with? You might be very surprised by the results. Respect everyone unconditionally, regardless of his or her background, religion, skin color, clothing, learning style, or success or lack of success in academic subjects or
sports. It is important that you stand up for what you believe in and know is right, even when it is difficult and especially when it is unpopular. This is a starting point, something your Secretary-General can help you to do, if you are interested and truly care--as I hope you do. But it is just a starting point.
Those of you who were here in fourth grade will remember the school supply outreach you participated in to a needy school somewhere in the world. You did chores for your families, friends, and neighbors, purchased school supplies, and brought them to UNIS. UNICEF shipped them for you. Was this hard to do? No.
Did it make you feel good that you had helped children in need in other places? You said it did. Did you understand that people in need have feelings and dreams just like you but that the only difference between you and them is that they are living in difficult circumstances? We hope so. Could you do more things like this? Of course.
Some excellent projects are already in place in the Middle School. What others can you come up with? Do you know about Heifer International, where money can be pooled to buy a cow or goat to make a Third World family self-sufficient and give it hope and dignity? What about getting involved with organizations that are providing solar-powered lamps for children in remote villages so that they can study at
night without having to breathe in the toxic fumes from kerosene lamps? How about weekend tutoring sessions at UNIS or a public library for underprivileged children right here in New York?
These, too, are only starting points. You need to let the world know about UNIS--it needs to know what you can teach them about respect and getting along with others. You need to be creative and take action not only to help others in need in other parts of the world, but to serve as a model to get other schools on
board to do the same thing. How can you do this? A committed, inventive Secretary-General and an understanding, caring, compassionate student body can contact other schools and find ways to make positive changes for other people everywhere. You could organize a conference for students from other middle schools to teach them about what they can do, following your example. You can form an organization of students at private schools to bring about change. Your Student Council or another group could visit other schools and explain what you have learned at UNIS about fostering respect, appreciating diversity, resolving conflicts peacefully, and helping others. There are ways to communicate quickly with many others now that did not exist when your parents and teachers were your age (and you are already much better than they are at them.) Make the most of them.
With a strong, organized Secretary-General, dedicated Student Council, and concerned student body, there are so many things you can do to reach out to others. The doors of opportunity to do good that are
open to you are limitless. Yes, it takes time, commitment, out-of-the-box thinking, and courage. In the end, though, you will not only be helping others but will be making yourselves better people. You are part of a small group of the most fortunate citizens of the world, and you have a responsibility to look inside
yourselves, take action based on what you believe, and live a life that reflects those beliefs. Think
first--but then act. You have the economic and technological resources, and, because you attend UNIS, you are in the best position of any middle school students anywhere to be the world’s young leaders in change for the better--and to show your peers in other schools how they can be like you.
The Middle School years are a time of great self-absorption. You worry about your looks, your
clothes, your social relationships, peer pressure--but there are much bigger, more important things to think about. It’s time to stand up, turn your attention and energies outward, and get to work.
I have the highest hopes for you all and wish you continued success and happiness under
the leadership of your new Secretary-General. Please support her. And remember to keep your mind on what is important in life: to care, to be kind, and to help.