From the Archives: UVM Alumnus Served as First U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.
- By Amanda Kenyon Waite
On Sunday, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power will address UVM’s Class of 2014. It won’t be the first time the holder of that title has spoken at a University of Vermont commencement. In 1947, the first official ambassador to the U.N. — UVM alumnus Warren Austin, a graduate of the Class of 1899 — delivered a speech to graduates titled “What it Takes to Prevent War.”
Austin, born in Highgate Center, Vt., served as a United States senator before his nomination by President Harry Truman to the ambassador role. He assumed the position in January 1947 and served for six years, playing a role in the creation of Israel, the partition of India, the start of the Cold War, and the decision to site the U.N. headquarters in New York, among other defining moments of the mid-20th century.
When he took the podium at UVM’s 156th commencement in 1947, he’d been in the role for just six months, and the U.N. had existed for less than two years. While much of the speech provided an overview of the U.N.’s activities to date, a sort of progress report on the fledgling organization, the following excerpts offer a glimpse of what defined the Class of 1947 and the world it was entering:
“I am going to talk with you about a very serious subject and I know that I am addressing a class that is especially qualified to go along the way with me in this conversation. It is a curious fact that classes of the year 1947 are quite different from classes of any former year. Now, I have addressed a few of them (Austin spoke at both Bates’ and MIT’s graduations that year), and I have found them so earnest, so settled as it were, so much better educated than the classes of my own period. I do not attribute it entirely to the advancement of the standard of education and teaching, although to that I give great thanks, and I believe due regard…. I attribute it in a degree to the fact that a certain amount of culture has come from the experience of the great war in which you sacrificed — many of you sacrificed those years which are usually spent in the ivory tower so to speak — and the kind of culture that I appeal to here is just what is needed to prevent war.
On your shoulders rests more than on our shoulders the responsibility of so carrying on, through the United Nations, that we will remove the causes of war, that we will substitute for war pacific means of settlement of disputes, that we will maintain collective security instead of national security. Upon you falls the leadership because you know what the stake is….
You see, I envisage your responsibility as very high, and I think of you as better qualified to realize it and put it into action than any class that has ever before graduated from our beloved Alma Mater.”
The text of this speech is preserved in UVM’s Special Collections in Bailey/Howe Library, where many of Austin’s papers now reside, thanks to a gift from his son in 1972. Warren Sr. was one of several Austin generations to attend the university. At Special Collections you’ll find drafts of speeches, memos, letters, and copies of the many honorary degrees Austin was awarded, among other artifacts.
Day in the life
Ambassador Samantha Power was the subject of New York magazine’s “Life in Pictures” feature last month. Nine photos trace her day, from breakfast at 8:25 a.m. with her kids, ages 4 and 1, to a Security Council meeting at 4:50 p.m., to the end of her workday at 8:17 p.m.
Among the artifacts in UVM’s Special Collections is a curiously similar recounting, in scrapbook form, of a typical day in Austin’s life in 1952. The book was created, it seems, with the purpose of educating the public on the U.S. involvement in the United Nations. Scroll through these images from “A Day with Warren Austin.”