Earlier in May, HKS hosted the IDEASpHERE, a celebration of big and powerful ideas among our professors, students and alumni. Among the globally renowned line-up of speakers were President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the current President of Liberia in her second term, and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. On the opening panel at IDEASpHERE, she spoke to current students and alumni about sacrifice, courage and vision – the essential elements of global leadership. In her efforts to bring justice and democracy to Liberia, she spent more than a year in jail at the hands of the military dictatorship of General Samuel Doe and had her life threatened by former President Charles Taylor. As the first woman to lead an African nation, President Sirleaf has been creating opportunities for woman all around the world with her vision of peace, democracy and transitional justice. Among this phenomenal leader’s numerous accolades is that she is an alumna of our school from the mid-career program (Class 1971).
For the past one or two years, our daily schedules were filled with classes, problem sets and lectures like any other student’s schedule in graduate school. But what made our experience particularly unique was the privilege we had of listening to, and learning from, the practitioners, leaders, and pioneers like President Sirleaf – on a near daily basis – of the topics we were learning in the classroom.
From the heads of states who spoke to us in the John F. Kennedy Forum, to the world-renowned professors, to the extraordinary classmates who make up our student body and life-long alumni networks, all parts of our identities and thinking have been deeply challenged. As an incoming student two years ago, I entered HKS with a particular worldview of international relations, and a relatively confident understanding of my career goals and personal strengths. Merely four semesters later, my career path has been completely rerouted (before it has even started!) after studying new topics at my professors’ urging. Over the past two years, some of us have traveled to places such as Palestine, Israel, North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq to acquire a more multidimensional understanding of our studies. Both my classmates’ and my values, sources of inspiration and motivation, and goals have been challenged and, at times, have substantially changed. As the end of our experience at HKS nears, we are all walking away from our experience at Harvard Kennedy School with vastly different experiences. But the one lesson I hope we all share is that we remain fearlessly committed to using our elite education to support the missions and goals that are greater than us. Our individual worlds as we know it have expanded, and our realms of reality and possibility have become limitless. As we return to the communities from which we came, or enter new communities that we will serve in the coming years, I am confident that we will all remain courageous and relentless in our endeavors — regardless of scale — to serve fellow man and woman.
This week can be easily seen as a celebration of the achievements of the graduating students, and, of course, this is partially true. But no one has come this far in his or her academic, professional and personal pursuits alone. Thank you to our parents, guardians and mentors who have supported, challenged, and guided us throughout the years. Thank you to our professors and faculty advisors who have expanded our consciousness and transformed our lofty dreams into actionable plans. Thank you to our friends and classmates who have steadfastly provided encouragement, feedback on ideas and projects and unconditional love.
Congratulations to my fellow classmates of the graduating class of 2014!
As a side note, I would like to dedicate my degree to my extraordinary parents, Woon Chun Baek and Ehja Kang.
2013-2014 Harvard Kennedy School, Student Government President