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Top U.N. diplomat to speak Feb. 6

Gillian Martin Sorensen, with former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan

Gillian Martin Sorensen, senior advisor at the United Nations Foundation and former assistant secretary general of external affairs of the United Nations, will speak at Lehigh University in the Sinclair Auditorium on Feb. 6 at 7 p.m.

“She’s has met with heads of state and been involved in crisis communications at the highest levels,” says Bill Hunter, the Lehigh University representative to the United Nations. “As a former journalist, it is truly a privilege to host on campus someone as highly regarded as Gillian Sorensen.”

Sorensen’s presentation, “The United Nations, the United States and the University” will discuss the United Nations’ tenuous relationship with the United States and address ways the university can partner with the transnational organization.

Hunter first met Sorensen and her husband, Ted, who is best known for his role in President John F. Kennedy’s special counsel and advisor, several years ago at dinner. Legendary CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite was also in attendance.

Hunter, a former journalist, describes the experience as similar to a baseball fanatic meeting the legendary Mickey Mantle. “The experience was truly humbling,” he says.

The Globalization and Social Change Initiative, which was launched in the fall of 2006, will also sponsor Sorensen’s presentation. Two of the initiative’s goals are to encourage research on globalization by bringing in speakers with an international focus and by collaborating with other programs, including the Lehigh University–United Nations Partnership.

“Certainly, inviting Ms. Sorensen aligns perfectly with our initiative’s goals,” says Jack Lule, the Joseph B. McFadden Distinguished Professor of Journalism and director of the Globalization and Social Change Initiative. “We will become more global by the very presence of Mrs. Sorensen, and her remarks surely will inspire study and teaching on the role of the U.N. in world affairs.”

As senior advisor of the U.N. Foundation, Sorensen acts as an advocate for the United Nations nationally and internationally. On Wednesday, she will describe America’s rocky relationship with the international organization, as well as present reasons for the United States to support the United Nations.

Sorensen will also suggest ways that the university and the United Nations can work together, say Hunter and Lule.

“Lehigh sees the U.N. as a partner—we often align with their goals and the U.N. supports the university as it attempts to achieve its goals,” says Hunter.

Lule says, “Some of the issues the U.N. is confronting are the same issues we confront every day: poverty, justice, economic, environmental and global issues.”

From 1997 to 2003, Sorensen worked as the assistant secretary general of external relations under U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. As such, she reached out to non-governmental organization and liaison for Annan with parliamentarians, the academic world, religious leaders and other groups.

Before working for Annan, Sorensen worked as special advisor for public policy by U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1993. Her duties included planning events, including conferences, debates, concerts and the United Nations’ fiftieth anniversary observances in 1995.

Prior to her appointment, Sorensen served for over 12 years as the New York City commissioner for the United Nations and Consular Corps, head of the city’s liaison with world’s largest diplomatic community.

Gillian Sorensen graduated from Smith College and studied at the Sorbonne. In the fall of 2002, on leave from the United Nations, she was a fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a fellow at the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy. Previously, she served as a board member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting on appointment by the president of the United States. In addition to her public service, she has been active in politics and was a delegate to three national presidential conventions.

“Gillian has also been very active in women’s movements,” says Hunter. “Lehigh women who might be looking for a mentor or someone to be like can look to Mrs. Sorensen as a great example.”

--Becky Straw

Photo courtesy of United Nations Foundation

Posted on Sunday, February 03, 2008

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