United Nations Trip

Friday, November 4th, 2011 dawned bright and cold for thirty or so Pforzheimer Honors College students, awaiting the buses to the United Nations World Headquarters in New York City. But neither the chilly weather nor the slightly delayed buses could deter the students from what would turn out to be an enlightening tour through the world’s preeminent diplomatic body.

Upon arriving at the complex and construction-riddled east side of Manhattan, we were met immediately by contrast. The stately Secretariat building, sheathed in austere marble and green glass, stands resolutely above the fluttering kaleidoscope of 193 national flags lined up along First Avenue. We were quickly herded through a makeshift security tent and into the expansive visitor’s center, where an international crowd mingled beneath floating concrete terraces that seem to evoke another era.

The first stop on our tour was the magnificent General Assembly chamber, where large, open debates involving all member states take place. With its soaring rotunda ceiling, abstract art, and soft paneling, this room balances the hard angles and intimidating exterior of the complex; indeed it invites one to imagine a beating heart to an organization sometimes criticized for its ineffectiveness. From our tour’s seating in the press area, we were treated to a head on view of the granite podium and solid wood backdrop the, for the last seven decades, have framed the attempts of world leaders to bring about “friendly relations among nations.” Finally, attached to each chair was the iconic earpiece worn to listen to the various translators who sit above the chamber, a system in continuous use since the building opened in 1952.

Outside and around the General Assembly chamber, the tour progressed through several exhibits. Some of these consisted of artwork, including an interpretation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and an assault rifle that had been fashioned into a guitar. Other displays focused on gifts that had been given to the UN over the years, while the final one illuminated the eight Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2002 to address worldly imperatives like poverty, universal education, and HIV/AIDS.

The final stop on our tour was the temporary Security Council chamber. This aging conference room has been converted to hold meetings while the permanent chamber is renovated. A palpable reverence befell the group as it marveled at the horseshoe table where the most intense and pertinent (its resolutions can be legally binding) organ of the UN weighs the collective peace and security of the world.