A Principal’s Speech to Young Delegates

Good afternoon, Delegates, leaders, honored guests. My name is David Bair and I am the Upper School Principal here at The American School of Brasília.  It is with great pride and a tremendous sense of honor that I open the Brasília Model United Nations Conference.  

In its third year, Brasília Model United Nations has become a symbol at this school for what we believe is right about today and what we hope for for tomorrow.  Though supported to a small degree by adults, this event was envisioned and created two years ago by an EAB student named Pedro Farias.  Last year Pedro’s vision was carried on by EAB student Carol Nascimento and her team.  This year, EAB Senior João Bosco Lucena, better known simply as Bosco, is the secretary general.  He and other student-leaders have worked very hard to ensure an excellent conference for all delegates and I am confident that this is what you will experience over the next two days.  

At its core, then, this conference is not just about Model United Nations, but about the immense capacity of youth.  More specifically, it is a clear demonstration of the transformative power of the EAB student.  Thank you, Bosco and team, for the great work you have done to prepare for this day.  You make this school proud.

As you participate in the conference in the coming days, I encourage you to take the work you do seriously and do it to the best of your ability. Do the work with a sense of honor and humility.   After over 70 years of relative peace and prosperity, it is easy to feel that progress and the betterment of humankind is inevitable.  Today there is better health, less poverty and more cooperation than at any time in human history.  History teaches us, however, that times of great optimism and human progress can, with great speed and violence, be destroyed by the worst of human cruelty.  Remember that at the beginning of the last century there was great optimism as democracy and global trade spread across Europe and the world.  That optimism was shattered by two great wars, the violent death of tens of millions of people, genocide and a worldwide depression.

Be reminded, then, as you work this week that progress is not inevitable.  Indeed, when nationalism once again spreads, progress is not inevitable.  When nuclear weapons proliferate, progress is not inevitable.  When the amazing tools of technology are used not only to make connections and share joy, but also to spread hate, misinformation and fear, progress is not inevitable.  When global powers look inward, shrink from the international stage and world leaders sow the seeds of division at home and abroad, progress is not inevitable.  When civil wars rage, refugees flee, the climate warms and the seas rise, progress is not inevitable.  

Indeed, a quick study of the historical record and today’s headlines make it clear that continued progress is not inevitable.  We know, however, that it is possible.  A thinker and writer named David Matten recently captured this idea by stating, “We can make things better. But only if we go forward with our eyes open. We’ve seen amazing progress in almost every dimension of human affairs across the last century. But that progress is fragile. We need to be its constant and vigilant guards.”

Though not a perfect institution, the United Nations for over seven decades has been a “constant and vigilant guard” of progress, peace and security.  Born from the ashes of World War II not as a utopian idea, the UN, while recognizing human imperfection and the attendant dangers of misunderstanding in international relations, also realizes the importance of dialogue, the need for cooperation the necessity of collective action.

This week at this conference you model those values and that fundamental work. As you do so I hope that you keep in mind the fragility of our progress as a species and therefore do your work as delegates with skill, tenacity, humility and passion. Both former U.S. President Barack Obama and Dr. Martin Luther King quoted the transcendentalist minister Theodore Parker when they said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” That may be true, but the arc doesn’t bend on its own.  To move to a future with more justice, more peace, and more prosperity, talented, thoughtful people must commit to engage in the great struggle to craft a better world and brighter future.  Delegates, today as you model the work done by the United Nations you take up that struggle. Today you are the vigilant guards.  

Thank you for joining us at the third Brasília Model United Nations Conference.  We are honored to have you here.

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