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Senior UN official urges International Institute graduates to be boldU.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Planning Robert C. Orr (UCLA 1987) addresses UCLA graduates at the International Institute Commencement Ceremony, June 15, 2013. (Photo: Oliver Chien.)

Senior UN official urges International Institute graduates to be bold

At the UCLA International Institute’s annual Commencement Ceremony in Royce Hall on Saturday, June 15, 2013, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Planning Robert C. Orr (UCLA 1987) urged graduates of the Institute’s degree programs to go into the world, think big and be bold.

By Peggy McInerny
Director of Communications

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“Please do not be realistic, do not be incremental or practical. . . Don’t aim for pedestrian success. Be bold. Peace in Syria bold. Peace in Somalia bold. Peace in Sudan bold. End poverty bold.”

UCLA International Institute, Los Angeles, June 15, 2013 — Close to 500 students in the International Institute’s Interdepartmental Programs (IDPs) will receive degrees in the 2012–2013 academic year (including summer 2013). These students represent undergraduates who completed majors and minors in International Development Studies, Global Studies, and International and Area Studies, as well as graduate students who completed advanced degrees in area and Islamic Studies.

IDP students at the International Institute’s 2013 Commencement Ceremony. (Photo: Oliver Chien)

Some 210 students participated in the Institute's Commencement Ceremony, which recognizes IDP majors and graduate students, including one Ph.D. in Islamic Studies (the only degree program of the Institute that confers a doctorate).

Recalling his own undergraduate experience at UCLA, commencement speaker Robert C. Orr, United Nations assistant secretary-general for strategic planning, related how he nearly failed Spanish conversation because he seized up during the oral exam. Thanks to an understanding professor, he was able to pass the course by visiting East Los Angeles and using his Spanish to interact with people, then returning to UCLA and describing his encounters in Spanish to his professor.

“It wasn’t just an act of mercy,” said Orr, “It was a life lesson: reach out, connect – it’s all about the people you meet along the way.”

Using the “gift” of a UCLA degree

A UCLA graduate himself (double major in English and history), Orr went on to complete an M.P.A. and Ph.D. at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University. He has spent the majority of his career between the U.S. government and the United Nations, and has published widely on peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction.

Prior to joining the U.N. in 2004, Orr served as executive director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government; director of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC; deputy to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and director of global and multilateral affairs at the National Security Council.

Orr offered three simple pieces of advice to graduates: Be bold, be empathetic, and create. Calling UCLA graduates “blessed by opportunity,” the speaker urged them to “Use your opportunity extravagantly: think big and be bold.

“Please,” he urged, “do not be realistic, do not be incremental or practical. . . Don’t aim for pedestrian success. Be bold. Peace in Syria bold. Peace in Somalia bold. Peace in Sudan bold. End poverty bold.”

Orr challenged the graduates to solve the greatest problems facing the world today: “What do we need to do to sustain our ecosystems, our societies and our planet itself? How do we need to change our politics, restructure our economies and change our lifestyles?

“Figure out ways to share precious water. Eliminate food waste. We are on the cusp of wiping out diseases that have killed and maimed for as long as people can remember. This generation — you — can actually end polio, malaria, measles, tetanus and HIV/AIDS. That kind of bold. Talk about exciting career opportunities ahead!”

At the same time, Orr urged graduates to develop empathy: “Figure out the connections, the commonalities and the dreams of people that you have never met before.” Orr held up former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela as an inspired example of the marriage of bold thinking and empathy, recalling Mandela’s argument to the UN Security Council that HIV/AIDS was both a national and international security threat.

Finally, Orr encouraged graduates to be entrepreneurs, whether of the social, policy or business variety. “Entrepreneurs,” he remarked, “take chances. They pay their dues, they often fail multiple times and pick themselves up and try again before succeeding, sometimes in quantum leaps. The process of creation is often hard, but it is also marvelously liberating, empowering and necessary.”

His final words of advice were highly practical: “Find a mentor, add a language or two, live in a place you have never lived before, and don’t forget to kiss someone you love — now.”

Student awards

As part of the ceremonies, James Walker was recognized for winning the Global Studies Senior Thesis Award for his research on the effects on national sovereignty of international efforts to bring to justice leaders accused of crimes against humanity.

The winners of International Development Studies (IDS) Senior Awards were also announced. Ryutaro Mori, an IDS major, won the IDS Academic Award for his stellar academic achievement, which included a grade point average of 4.0. Annie Rittenhouse, another IDS student, received an honorable mention for the same award.

The IDS Activist Award was given to two outstanding students this year: Caitlin M. Campos and Priscilla Mapelli. Campos received the award in recognition of her work in multiple humanitarian endeavors in the Los Angeles community and abroad — from a nonprofit that she founded in high school, to chaperoning high schools students doing community service in Nicaragua, to volunteer work with ProMujer (Nicaragua), the American Red Cross and the local Los Angeles chapter of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equity, which she helped found.

Mapelli was recognized for her extensive volunteer work with youth in Los Angeles and abroad (Honduras and Ghana) through the Cultural Affairs Commission of the UCLA Undergraduate Student Council, UniCamp and Global Brigades UCLA.

UCLA International Institute