Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa (2011)
Mohandas Gandhi once said that “As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world…as in being able to remake ourselves.” Few epithets capture more appositely the tenacious and resilient spirit of Mr Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States. His four years in America’s highest office, from 1976 to 1980, were preceded by service as a nuclear submariner, a businessman, and state governor; and followed by unstinting work over three decades as a peacemaker, teacher and humanitarian.
Born in Plains, Georgia, in 1924, Jimmy Carter was educated at Georgia Southwestern College, Georgia Institute of Technology, and the United States Naval Academy. After graduation, he rose to the rank of lieutenant, was selected to pursue graduate work at Union College in reactor technology and nuclear physics, and later served as senior officer on the second US nuclear submarine, the Seawolf. Upon the death of his father, he returned to civilian life and took over and expanded the family farming business in Georgia, earning great popularity and respect in his local community.
Modest by nature and with a deep commitment to Christianity, he was anxious to serve both his country and his Georgian constituency. He embarked on a political career, and in 1962 won election to the Georgia Senate. In 1971 he became the 76th Governor of Georgia; and in December 1974 announced his candidacy for the US presidency. Few rated his chances of success. Research polls suggested he had a name recognition of only 2 per cent; and legend has it that when he told his mother of his intentions, she asked “President of what?” But after the Watergate scandal, the American people looked for a life raft of integrity, someone they could trust and believe in. And they found such a man in Jimmy Carter. He was elected president in November 1976, the first contender from the Deep South to win such office since 1848.
The ancients used to say that “Fortune never comes with both hands full”—and so it was with Mr. Carter’s presidency. He battled valiantly to contain inflation, recession, deficits, energy crises and in-fighting within his own party. At the same time he promulgated some of the most enlightened legislation in US history, stood unflinchingly firm on issues of equality and justice, strove tirelessly to bring peace to the Middle East through the Camp David Accords, returned the Panama Canal to the people of Panama, and made the world safer by reaching agreement with Leonid Brezhnev on the SALT II nuclear arms reduction treaty. It was the ill-fortune of the long-running Iran hostage crisis that so cruelly cost him a second term in office.
Since relinquishing the presidency, Jimmy Carter’s public works have continued unabated. In partnership with Emory University, he established The Carter Center which, in his words, is about “helping people achieve better opportunities and watching hope take root where it languished before.” Around the world he has committed himself to promoting a fundamental belief in human rights, freedom and democracy; and to alleviating human suffering in whatever form it presents itself. His seasoned diplomacy has worked for good in locations as diverse as North Korea, Haiti, Vietnam and the Great Lakes region of Africa. In 2002 he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, in the words of the Nobel citation, “to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.” While other US presidents have won the prize for achievements during their time in office, Mr Carter is the only person to have received the honour for works undertaken after the presidency.
Hong Kong Baptist University has strong connections with The Carter Center, and esteems Mr Carter as a model of compassion and humanity, and as an illustration of the power of one extraordinary human being to bring about meaningful change and the betterment of humankind. Mr Chairman, in recognition of his remarkable achievements in advancing the conditions of his fellow human beings, may I present to you Mr Jimmy Carter for the award of the degree of Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa.