Uniting Nations

Saint Mary’s alumnus Dr. John W. Ashe elected President of the United Nations General Assembly 

Published in the May issue of Maroon & White, Saint Mary’s University’s alumni magazine.

President John Ashe at the opening of the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly. (photo courtesy of United Nations General Assembly - President of the 68th session)

President John Ashe at the opening of the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly. (photo courtesy of United Nations General Assembly – President of the 68th session)

Last June, Dr. John W. Ashe (BASc’79) was elected President of the United Nations General Assembly, and in one of his first speeches to the gathering of the entire membership of the UN, he reminded the audience of the almost sixty-year journey that brought him to that global stage, a journey that began on the twin-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda.

“There, in a household of seven kids,” he said, “whose parents never had the opportunity to complete high school, one child . . . whose mother was a descendant of slave plantation owners, was determined to be the first in his family’s generation to attend university and seek an opportunity wherever it may occur to make a difference. I am that child of those parents!”

And he succeeded in reaching those lofty goals, in large part by sticking to the values his parents instilled in him at a young age. “Determination, dedication, hard work and patience were all necessary requirements in our household,” he wrote in an email exchange we had in February. “Fortunately, they are also the attributes one needs for the job of President of the UN General Assembly, where bridging differences and building consensus among the 193 Member States of the UN General Assembly are all the lingua franca of the day.”

They’re also the attributes he took with him to Saint Mary’s, where he graduated in just two years with a degree in mathematics and engineering and a diploma in engineering, and later to his roles as Antigua and Barbuda’s Permanent Representative to both the UN and the World Trade Organization.

Today, he’s using them to fight for sustainable development around the world, which is, he says, “the singular quest that consumes and defines” him. And no wonder when you consider where he grew up. “In my region of the world, the effects of a hurricane on the economy of an island can set back a country’s economy by decades. Scientists predict that climate change will increase the magnitude, frequency and severity of such severe weather events, thereby rendering long-term sustainable development and the global fight against extreme poverty all but moot.”

Yet as you might guess he is determined to make a difference. During his presidency of the General Assembly, he is working to set the stage for the adoption of a new global development framework in 2015. Applicable to all countries and with the eradication of extreme poverty at its core, the framework will hopefully guide the development of our economies in a sustainable way for decades to come.

“As a human being, it would have been unthinkable to sit back and do absolutely nothing when the opportunity to contribute to—and perhaps shape—the debate presented itself,” he wrote in a final email. “For the sake of present and future generations, we need to set the world on a path to a sustainable development that will restore a harmonious relation between our planet and its inhabitants.”

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