Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 17, 2023
Thank you very much, President Cousens, for the kind introduction and for making it slow enough that I could get here on time. I will catch my breath before I finish this. I also want to thank you for the invaluable partnership through the United Nations Foundation. You have been truly-truly a friend to all of us here. And, wow, it is just amazing to see all of you here in this room. You’re the next generation, you’re really the next generation for us. I really am delighted to be here with you. [Applause.] I also want to take a moment to thank Congressman Espaillat and all those who have joined us in person and online.
It was almost two years ago today when I first stepped foot in this chamber. [Applause.] You know – I’m still pinching myself – I came as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and I have goosebumps over that moment. For me to be here – where so much history has unfolded – was both humbling and electrifying. And to think of all of the amazing people who came before me, the one that comes to mind of course is former Secretary of State, former UN Ambassador, the late Madeline Albright. [Applause.] To be here, sitting in the placard that she sat behind, sitting in the chair that she sat in, really for me, was an extraordinary moment
Over the past two years, I have come to this chamber countless times, and I have to tell you – the magic has not yet worn off. We owe so much to this citadel of multilateralism.
And I know you all share my enthusiasm for its history and for its promise. That’s why you’re here. Because, like me, you believe that the greatest challenges of our time can only be solved together, through collective action.
And right now, we face a long list of great challenges. A global food crisis. Dire humanitarian crises, like the one caused by the earthquake in Türkiye and Syria. The existential threat of climate change. Attacks by a Permanent Member of the Security Council on the UN’s very Charter. And that just names a few. Frankly, it’s a daunting list.
And none of these challenges will be solved overnight. But your commitment to the values and ideals of the UN gives me hope. American leadership – here at the UN – would not be nearly as effective without you and without the grassroots work of UNA-USA. Your partnership is vital to our efforts to advance peace, prosperity, and the Sustainable Development Goals.
And I am particularly – particularly heartened by the sea of young people who have joined us today. Let’s give our young people a hand. [Applause.]
You are the leaders of the future for us. You are the reason I have hope. Because I know, that one of you sitting out in this audience today, will be standing here, one day. [Applause.]
Now, the United Nations and I share something in common: we’re both baby boomers. And much to my chagrin, age does take its toll. That’s why, when I walked into this room, I was out of breath. [Laughter.] This month’s State of the Union reminded me of that because as any of you who watch the State of the Union, you saw us doing squats. We were doing a lot of sitting and standing, sitting and standing and my knees are still sore today from that. But age has also taken its toll on the United Nations. And, to borrow some Gen-Z slang – and my team had to explain this to me [laughter], the UN needs a glow-up. [Laughter, Applause.] They explained it to me, and I guess I took it to mean, we need a makeover. So I’m ready. Because if we’re going to solve the challenges of our time, we need to ensure the institution that we’re working with is fit for the 21st century.
For one, we need to modernize the Security Council and make it more inclusive. [Applause]. That’s why the U.S. supports Council expansion in both permanent and non-permanent categories, including membership for Africa, and for Latin America and the Caribbean.
And now more than ever, we must defend the UN Charter and hold those that violate the Charter to account.
Ultimately, the future of the United Nations will not be determined by my generation. It will be determined by our young people – you! That’s why the United States is so invested in your leadership.
Our Mission works closely with UNA-USA Youth Observer Himaja Nagireddy – who is doing tremendous work. You all should give her a hand of applause. [Applause.]
And we are pushing to get more young Americans into the UN system. Last year, we announced a new $500* dollar scholarship program to help American citizens pursue internships in the UN. This program is funded through the generosity of UNA-USA, Schmidt Futures, and the Eleanor Crook Foundation, and is expected to fund at least fifty scholarships over the next three years. But that’s a drop in the bucket. And I do, thank them so much for that. We need more private sector engagement so that we can have more UN interns. [Applause.]
We are encouraging young Americans to look into the Junior Professional Officer program, which provides a pathway to a career at the UN. I hope many of you will apply before March 15th. Put that date in your calendars, March 15th is the deadline if you want to apply for a JPO.
The bottom line is this: the UN’s capacity for change depends on you.
As Amanda Gorman told the UN General Assembly from this very rostrum – and my voice is not going to be like hers, but I’ll try my best. She said:
“Together, we won’t just be the generation
That tries – but the generation
Let us see a legacy
Where tomorrow is not driven
By the human condition,
But by our human conviction.”
We are counting on you to build a brighter, kinder, more just future for us all.
And we are counting on UNA-USA, with your more than 20,000 members and 200 chapters, to ensure American leadership guides us toward the future.
This summit – the first we’ve been able to hold in person in three years – is a perfect opportunity to exchange ideas, inspire action, and strengthen our relationships.
And I am grateful to all of you for being here, for what you will do over the next year to advance our shared goals.
May you continue to drive tomorrow, and deliver – as Amanda said – that human conviction of peace.
Thank you very much.