U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan berated the United States for its outstanding debt to the United Nations during the Macalaster College commencement Sunday.
The 1961 Macalaster graduate informed about 5,000 people on Macalaster’s lawn of financial woes that plague the United Nations.
“The amount of money owed by the United States amounts to $1.6 billion,” Annan said. “While this is a critical sum for the U.S., it is slightly less than the film ‘Titanic’ has made in the past few months.”
Two weeks ago, Congress sent a bill to repay the United Nations to its virtual deathbed by linking the appropriation to a ban on financing abortions. The measure is guaranteed a presidential veto.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson warned Friday that U.S. priorities — like retaining economic sanctions on Iraq and keeping U.S. citizens in charge of key U.N. agencies — might be in jeopardy unless the debt is repaid.
Earlier this spring, Annan brokered a peace treaty between the United States and Iraq, allowing U.N. officials to search for Iraqi biological weapons.
During his address, he did not mention nuclear arms testing in India or the Pakistani/Indian arms race now commanding the world’s attention.
Annan is not the only political notable descending on Twin Cities college commencement ceremonies. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will speak at the University’s College of Liberal Arts graduation on June 14.
Members of Macalaster’s class of 1998 can mark their college career as beginning and ending with Annan. Four years ago he returned to his alma mater and spoke at the opening convocation when they were freshmen.
When the graduates received their diplomas, Macalaster officials presented Annan with a honorary degree of doctor of laws.
Annan also encouraged the 467 graduates to follow his lead into the public sphere as they depart from campus.
“More than ever we need dedicated and talented individuals to enter public service,” Annan said.
Richard Ammons, Macalaster vice president for college advancement, said Annan made a connection with the students through his speech by referring to his college days and slipping in a few jokes.
But his underlying theme is likely to stick with many. “The true measure of success in the human life is what we give back,” Annan said.
Rob Peick, a high school teacher at Cretin-Derham Hall in attendance, jotted down that phrase to share with his class of 18-year-olds today. It’s the same message Peick said he tries to convey to his students.
“It helps a lot,” Peick said, “just to keep the faith.”