UN diplomat—insider’s perspective


On Monday, February 7, from 12 to 2 p.m., Desmond Parker, University of Toronto alumnus and United Nations Chief of Protocol, gave an “insider’s perspective” and detailed account of his personal journey into the diplomatic world at the Mist Theatre to an audience of alumni and students.

Parker has served in the UN for 17 years in various positions, including as a human rights officer in Haiti and Liberia. Currently, he services the protocol needs of 192 member states.

He graduated from UTM in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in modern languages (French and Spanish), later pursuing a master’s in Francophone literature and a post-graduate diploma in education while lecturing on French language and literature at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria.

Deep Saini, principal of UTM, was present to introduce Parker to the audience.

“Parker has an impressive CV,” said Saini, “but I think the most important is that he graduated from UTM.”

Parker called it “strange and surreal” to return to these halls for the first time since he left them, adding that he has “vivid memories” of his time at UTM, which he called a “campus of colour and beauty unsurpassed” and said he feels “a certain connection with this institution”.

“So much has transpired. So much has changed,” he said in his speech. “I came with high hopes and very little friends. I was eager to succeed. Today I am convinced that vision and determination are necessary for anyone who wishes to craft a successful career.”

Parker described his journey from his time at UTM to his role in the world of international diplomacy with an emphasis on his undergraduate years. Parker described how the UTM experience “molded and focussed” him on his career path and provided him with the opportunity to learn transferable skills, which he has taken with him around the world. He also had advice for undergraduates seeking direction in their career options.

“When choosing a career path, you must ask yourself this question: How can you use your education for something greater than you could ever imagine?” advised Parker. “We all have the opportunity to achieve great things. We don’t know when history is going to choose us; you have to have a vision of what is possible.”

Parker concluded by saying: “There is nothing wrong with dreams. Everything is possible. Keep the question in mind: How can I be used for something greater than myself? Stay humble. Stay focussed.”

After Parker’s speech, two of his UN colleagues gave advice on how to prepare an application that “stands out” to résumé-readers when seeking a job or career in the UN. After briefly describing their own career paths, the two officials noted that there are many ways to become part of the UN. A standard formula does not exist, and “knowing someone on the inside” is not necessarily the best way to get a job. Jobs are currently open in Vienna, New York, Geneva, and elsewhere. Internships are also available. For a detailed list, students are asked to visit careers.un.org.

For more information on the UN, students are asked to visit un.org.