New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will give this year’s Commencement Address at Harvard University in May.

Ms Ardern has been selected by the prestigious Ivy League university and will travel to Massachusetts in a few months in potentially her first overseas visit since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Harvard President Larry Bacow said Ms Ardern was “one of the most respected leaders on the world stage” and would also receive an hononary degree from the university.

“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,” he said.

The address for Harvard’s 369th commencement will take place on May 26.

Speaking from Parliament House in Wellington on Tuesday, Ms Ardern said the invitation was “significant”.

“For me it will be about doing the best I can to represent New Zealand,” she said.

“I see it very much as an invitation to New Zealand as much as much as it is to me.”

The Kiwi PM will travel to the United States as one of four trade missions she has committed to taking this year.

The visit will also include “engagement on the United States West Coast focused on New Zealand’s high-technology export sectors” according to the prime minister’s office.

“New Zealand is in demand internationally. A priority for our international engagement is to focus on trade opportunities that accelerate our recovery raise New Zealand’s profile in key export markets,” Ms Ardern said.

It is likely Ms Ardern could also meet with US President Joe Biden on the trip during a White House visit.

Harvard University has a longstanding tradition of inviting inspirational speakers for their marquee address, including heads of government, Nobel Prize winners and business leaders.

German chancellor Angela Merkel gave the address in 2019, with Mark Zuckerberg (2019) and Oprah Winfrey (2013) among other recent speakers.

Robert Menzies is the only Australian prime minister to have done so, addressing students while in office in 1960.

Others to have given the commencement address include Robert Menzies, Steven Spielberg, J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates and Winston Churchill.

The honour is not the first Harvard has bestowed on the 41-year-old Labour leader.

In late 2020, Harvard’s Kennedy School for Public Leadership announced Ms Ardern as that year’s winner of the Gleitsman International Activist Award for her government’s COVID-19 reaction and response to the Christchurch Mosque shootings.

Ms Ardern donated the US$150,000 (A$210,000) prize to a scholarship for New Zealanders to attend Harvard.

Ms Ardern’s last overseas trip was a trip to Fiji and Sydney in February 2020, and has not travelled since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In unveiling her government’s reconnection strategy earlier this month, she committed to travelling to four regions – North America, Asia, Europe and Australia – in 2022.

Last yer, she pledged to make Australia her first stop outside of New Zealand, but was forced to abandon an August 2021 trade mission due to a Delta outbreak in Sydney.


Ben McKay
(Australian Associated Press)