Letter From Philadelphia—Remarks at a Model UN Conference

“I'd rather be in Philadelphia"

For some reason this is what President Reagan said (quoting the humorist W.C. Fields) after being shot. I had good reason to agree last month after speaking at the opening of the 31st Ivy League Model United Nations Conference (ILMUNC) organized by University of Pennsylvania students.

The audience was 3,000 high schools students and their teachers. When I asked how many already have a passport, this was the first audience ever where just about all the hands went up. Since most Americans still do not have passports, I already thought the audience must be extraordinary with so many having taken the first step in preparing to study abroad. And my charge to the teachers was to join IIE’s Generation Study Abroad initiative by taking the pledge and reaching out to those students they could not bring to the conference.

In my remarks (93 KB, PDF) I spoke about a high school teacher of mine and a national debate competition and their profound impact on who I have become. Some of the students looked like I thought I appeared when I first started out. And I was so glad they were there. You never know how these things turn out. But I am sure no student who participates in the ILMUNC ever actually forgets its impact.

I was also impressed with a high school teacher who brought a group of students from Venezuela. He made a point of saying "we need this and we need you." The country is going through some very hard and isolating times. Coming to Philadelphia was indeed first prize—for him and for us.