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News / Nation & World

New Zealand’s Ardern to give Harvard commencement speech

By Associated Press
Published: February 15, 2022, 8:47am

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been chosen to give the keynote speech at Harvard University’s spring commencement, the Ivy League school announced Monday.

Ardern is scheduled to address graduates at a May 26 ceremony at the campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard President Larry Bacow called Ardern “one of the most respected leaders on the world stage.”

“From climate change and gender equality to COVID-19, she has modeled compassionate leadership that has brought together empathy and science-based solutions to address the most challenging issues of our time,” Bacow said in a statement.

Ardern, 41, became New Zealand’s youngest prime minister in more than 150 years when she was elected in 2017. She went on to win a second term in a landslide election in 2020. She has been in parliament since 2008 and led the Labour Party before becoming prime minister.

She has drawn recognition for her work to fight climate change, promote gender equity and contain the coronavirus.

The nation of 5 million has one of the lowest COVID-19 death rates in the world and has been held up as a model for fighting the virus. About 95% of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated against the virus, according to New Zealand health officials.

Still, the country has faced growing disruption amid a spike in cases caused by the omicron variant this year. The increase led Ardern to postpone her own wedding in January amid new restrictions.

A year after becoming prime minister, Ardern became only the second world leader to give birth while in office. She is viewed as a role model for women and an advocate for diversity and representation.

She has won praise for assembling a diverse cabinet including her appointment of Nanaia Mahuta as the country’s first Indigenous female foreign minister.

Ardern was also praised for her handling of a 2019 attack on two Christchurch mosques, when a white supremacist gunned down 51 Muslim worshippers.

She will be awarded an honorary degree at Harvard’s 369th commencement. Past speakers include Ruth Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University; former Washington Post editor Marty Baron; and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Harvard will hold a separate ceremony on May 29 to celebrate the classes of 2020 and 2021, whose ceremonies were delayed because of the pandemic. The university said another speaker will be chosen for that event.