Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon Delivers Final Lecture at SIU in Carbondale, Embraces Lincoln's Legacy

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

I had the distinct privilege of attending United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s final public lecture on December 21st at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. His Illinois itinerary also included a visit to the Lincoln Library and Museum.

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute was among the event’s sponsors and hosted an intimate reception for the Secretary-General prior to his lecture (see picture below). As I’ve written previously, the Simon Institute has long served as our bridge to Southern Illinois teachers and schools in our work to strengthen the state’s civic education system.

At the lecture, we were joined by students and teachers from Carbondale Community High School, our first Democracy School in Southern Illinois. Their delegation was led by social studies teacher Daron Abscher, our Illinois Civics Teacher Mentor representing the Jackson-Perry Regional Office of Education.

Building global awareness among students is an important objective for civic education. And Secretary-General Ban elevated a plethora of topics of international import, including the protracted conflict in Syria, risks of genocide in South Sudan, and climate change.

He expounded on the latter subject, likely in response to the pending change in American presidents and the potential of a sharp shift in policy away from deliberate steps to mitigate it domestically.

Climate change is real. The science is settled. As the world faces record warmth, the Paris Agreement (of 2015) has entered into force with rapid speed, embraced by all of the world’s leading emitters—including the United States… It is a rare and precious achievement that we should nurture and guard.

Secretary-General Ban also trumpeted the inaugural UN Youth Envoy with special emphasis on youth employment. He proclaimed, “We are determined to work not just for youth, but with youth.”

The Secretary-General’s speech was flavored with local fare, including the late Senator Paul Simon’s affinity for world affairs. Simon visited more than 100 countries and worked on arms reduction treaties across presidential administrations, Republican and Democratic.

In a nod to his pending Lincoln Library visit, Ban drew “…a straight line from the principles that President Lincoln defended to those that animate the United Nations.” Labeling Lincoln “…a heroic force for equality, integration, and reconciliation,” the Secretary-General associated these ideals with the “best spirit of the United States,” concluding that they are needed now more than ever before.

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