Highlights from a Great Speaker

Sometimes insomnia pays off. I had the honour of watching Jacinda Ardern’s farewell to the New Zealand Parliament live last night. It was a great speech. She was a great leader. Here are some highlights from this lover of good speeches.

Of course, she told stories. She wove in powerful, well-chosen ones: 
After the attack at Christchurch, she met with members of the Muslim community. She recognized one from his picture in that morning’s newspaper, where his face had been covered in blood from the aftermath of the attack. As he stood to speak to her just hours later, she didn’t know what to expect:
“He thanked us. Here was someone who had been through the most horrific experience I can imagine, and he thanked New Zealand and expressed gratitude for his home…
The most significant task for us all as a nation is…to deserve their thanks.”

There was great writing, delivered genuinely:
“Politics has never been a tick list for me. It’s always been about progress. Sometimes you can measure it, and sometimes you can’t. 
…There will be no list of the lives saved because of the banning of military-style semi-automatic weapons.”

Naturally, she had many people to thank. Unlike boring Oscar acceptance speeches that rush to get everyone in, Ardern included tightly-written lines to give meaning: “To Holly, who has the biggest heart but the sharpest mind.” Adding, with a cracking voice: “Your dad would be so proud of you.”

And obviously, a kicker closing:
“I cannot determine what will define my time in this place, but I do hope I’ve demonstrated something else entirely: 
That you can be anxious, sensitive, kind, and wear your heart on your sleeve.
You can be a mother. Or not.
You can be an ex-Mormon. Or not.
You can be a nerd, a cryer, a hugger.
You can be all of these things.
And not only can you be here…
You can lead.
Just like me.”

But most impressive—and what replays of the speech likely won’t show but at 3am I had nothing better to do than to watch—was what happened after. She took a sip of water and stood there awkwardly for a moment. I saw the nerd she described herself as. Then, a line started to form, what seemed to be almost every member of Parliament lining up to send her off. It looked like Easter Sunday communion at Notre Dame Basilica, only instead of the body of Christ they were there for a hug from Jacinda.
The Māori members sang to pass the time as each said their goodbye. She took a quick moment with every one. Some hugs were longer than others. You could feel the memories well up in the longer ones.
Indeed, you can be a hugger, and you can lead.
And, as it turns out, you can leave.


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