This reflection was written by Hunter Richard, the Secretary-General of the 2012 Harvard Model United Nations (HMUN) conference. It was originally published in The Crimson for their Commencement Editorial series and shared with permission from the author.
Over the past four years, we thought that we were saving the world. We negotiated and approved comprehensive resolutions on climate change. We launched ambitious programs to combat small arms trafficking. We monitored the situation in Libya, dispatched peacekeepers to Somalia, and promoted self-determination across the globe. Embracing a deep sense of idealism, we strove to craft solutions to the greatest problems of our time. Armed with bold ideas and persuasive three-point speeches, we simulated the United Nations. My experience at Harvard was defined by my participation in model United Nations. Myself and over 200 other undergraduates organized model U.N. conferences for high school and college students and traveled across the United States and beyond to debate and discover pressing international issues.
Despite remaining a simulation of the real world, model U.N. expanded my perspective on issues beyond our borders and pushed me to be an active citizen in our world. Prior to coming to Harvard, I had never owned a passport, let alone traveled abroad. Four years later, I’ve traveled to China, India, Singapore, Greece, and a host of other countries. I have a couch to sleep on in Taipei, a friend eager to give me a tour of Paris, and a host of dubious business opportunities in Mumbai. Each of these friendships and connections were formed through model U.N. at Harvard. During debates in committee rooms, I defended positions as a country with policies that I might not have agreed with. Yet in the process, I challenged and strengthened my own beliefs as an American and a global citizen. In conversations with delegates at conferences in international cities, I discovered how my limited view of the world obscured my awareness of cultural differences. I eagerly sought to learn more about different cultures and gain a greater respect for the unique customs and beliefs of others. Each of these transformations was made possible through model U.N.
As a leader of Harvard Model United Nations and within the Harvard International Relations Council, I formed lasting friendships with a group of Harvard students similarly eager to discover and embrace an international perspective. Together we organized and attended Model U.N. conferences that brought together students from across the world and expanded not only our own international awareness, but also that of others. At the 59th session of HMUN this past January, we welcomed 3,200 high school students from over 37 countries to Boston for debate and cultural exchange. Committees at HMUN moved beyond the organs of the United Nations and simulated other international bodies of the past or of growing importance in the future. We launched conferences in China, India, and beyond to bring even more students together to explore international issues and grapple with difficult problems of global governance. I take deep pride in being a member of an organization that not only simulated global issues and modeled the challenges of real life, but also inspired greater awareness and excitement in the next generation of global leaders.
While I was active in a student organization that simulated international events and crises, I depart through the gates into a world that is clearly beyond the bounds of any model. The problems we face as an international society and the difficult compromises and challenges required to solve such problems lay beyond the imagination of any Harvard student running a committee on the World Health Organization, the Group of 20, or the Security Council. Yet I leave Harvard with a greater optimism on the ability of the world to come together to propose creative solutions to prominent international issues. I recognize the importance of understanding and exchange in overcoming cultural barriers. I now possess a strong sense of activism and seek to be an engaged American and a global citizen. Thank you to Harvard University and to the entire staff and legacy of model U.N. at Harvard in providing me with this opportunity to explore my beliefs, to reflect on my position in the world, and to answer a call to service in the global community.
Hunter M. Richard ‘12 is a government concentrator in Quincy House. He served as Secretary-General of the 59th session of Harvard Model United Nations. He will be teaching English and traveling across Asia as a Princeton in Asia fellow next year.