A talk given by the mayor at a youth festival
Place: Seoul World Cup Stadium
Hello, everyone! I am your friend, Park Won-soon, just one piece of dust in the gigantic universe. It’s nice to see so many young people at this youth festival.
You know how stars are made, don’t you? Scientists say that stars are formed by dust floating in the universe. What comes to your mind when stars are mentioned? For me, I think about The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. The pure and clean spirit of the little prince from a distant star makes me look back at myself. The Little Prince says, “What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well…” The Little Prince is a fable for adults. As we get older, we are likely to lose the pure spirit that we used to have when we were young. Sometimes I take The Little Prince from my bookshelf just to read the lines about his heart being as pure as untrodden snow.
The TV drama My Love from the Star is another one that comes to my mind when talking about stars. Do Min-jun (starring Kim Su-hyeon) is a very pure and nice young man, isn’t he? He has a beautiful mind. He is a devoted young man striving to protect the woman he loves. Isn’t that beautiful? Stars in our mind make our heart remain pure and beautiful, as real starts shine in the dark sky.
The fact that stars are formed by dust floating in the universe provides us with lots of things to think about. Do you know that I am also one from a star? Which star? Seoul-teukbyeolsi [“Byeol” in “teukbyeolsi” (meaning Special City) also means “star”].
The sight of so many young people wandering aimlessly in the prime of life makes me deeply sad as an adult, responsible for their current status.
Some people think that I am a successful man, but I don’t agree with them. I never think that I have succeeded in life. If the paths I have walked in my life, if the many things I tried to innovate in our society as a member of a civic organization have ended in success, our society, including the current status of young people, would be much better than it is now. I often dream of making another world a little different from the world we live in, a world where everyone lives together happily.
May I talk about the dreams I had when I was young? I think we can make a much better world together if we share our wisdom and life experience with each other as equals.
I was born in a poor family in a rural village in Changnyeong, Gyeongnam Province. When in middle school, I had to walk 12 km to school every day. I studied hard, as I wanted to make my peasant parents happy.
I failed the entrance exam for high schools in Seoul, so I decided to apply for a better one after studying hard for another year. I was on a night train for Seoul, which took more than 10 hours. I studied really hard. The next year I passed the high school entrance exam [Mr. Park entered Kyunggi High School, which was the best high school in the country]. I came down with tuberculosis pleurisy in my senior year at high school, and I failed the college entrance exam. The following year, however, I managed to pass the college entrance exam. [He entered Seoul National University, which is the best university school in the country]. My happiness did not last long; on a spring day that year, I was arrested by the police for my participation in a street demonstration. I was put into jail and expelled from school. I cursed my fate.
However, I soon found out that my days in jail were something to be happy about. That place provided an atmosphere for studying better than a real school. I read lot of books, including the Bible, Munyeodo (The Portrait of Shaman) by Kim Dong-ri, Reason and Revolution by Herbert Marcuse, and many others. The Struggle for Law by Rudolf von Jhering, in particular, gave me lots of inspiration and insight.
I was awakened to the importance of participation and solidarity by the following quotes of Jhering in the book: “There is no assurance of life and assets without legal rights,” “You find your rights amid struggles,” and “The aim of law is peace, and the process leading to it is struggle.”
The books I read in jail helped me start studying for the bar exam and become a human rights lawyer and civic activist. The wisdom and experience of my elders was contained in those books, and they made me think about how to live in the future, what a good life is, and helped me put my thinking into practice. They served like a lighthouse.
Even in the ensuing period of my twenties, I went through times of wandering, confusion, and loneliness. I continued to foster dreams, and my experiences helped me stand on my own despite many difficulties. What those older than myself told me became my life motto; they told me to become a valuable person rather than a successful one, and what you do is more important than what positions you reach.
To that end, I switched from one job to another and spent my young days doing what many people avoided due to difficulties. I could live more easily as a public prosecutor, but I chose to become a human rights lawyer instead. I worked as a civic movement activist, exploring the area, which was nothing more than wilderness in this country. Something inside me had me devote my life to work, and I founded a public-good organization and worked towards becoming a social designer and innovator of our society.
In retrospect, I think that what I have done has been a journey looking for another world where everyone can be happy together. That journey is still ongoing. Still, I now have a clearer and more certain objective. My current dream is to work together with you young people to make your dreams come true. We at the SMG are striving to provide you young people with time and space to extend your dreams to your heart’s content. Do what you like freely, extend your imagination, and take a challenging attitude. You have heard of Seoul Innovation Park in Eunpyeong-gu, haven’t you? We made the Seoul Youth Hub there. We operate it and the Seoul Youth Zones to encourage young people to explore new ways of life together and extend their dreams.
In addition, we plan to launch the Youth Center as a space where young people can stay and work freely. We also run the Youth Policy Committee, the first of its kind launched by a local government, to formulate visions for young people with the participation of public officials including myself, experts, and representatives of young people. We are also considering launching a body named the Seoul Youth Council by July to encourage young people to take a more active role in our municipal administration.
Many young people are fostering their dreams with innovative ideas despite the unfavorable conditions around them. The social venture sector, designed to solve social problems from an economic perspective, requires the participation of young people willing to face challenges. A business named Lee Hyo-Ri Forest is one of them. Her fans donate trees to the business and the business takes care of them in a forest. Proceeds from the forest are returned to fans. Recently, college students, including those from foreign countries, launched a housing project in the form of a shared house.
It is well known that the country has strong IT (information technology)-related potential. We have seen a recent increase in the number of youth ventures engaging in a variety of projects using 3D printers. The blue ocean areas in IT like IOT (Internet of Things) invite young people with a challenging spirit to innovate amongst the wide distribution of smart phones.
The Seoul Young Innovative Activists Project, for one, is an innovative project designed to provide jobs to young people. Under the project, young people are temporarily hired by social service-related businesses (e.g. cooperatives, sharing businesses, village businesses, and NPOs) for a year. The young people thus hired enhance their capabilities while carrying out their assignments. After a year, they become regular employees of the businesses or start their own businesses.
Dreams and challenges are the privileges of young people. However, you young people are faced with a great number of difficulties and unfavorable conditions. It is not easy to go to college, and college tuition fees are very expensive. Businesses expect their new employees to have many certifications as well as good grades. Many young people work as non-regular employees. They are asked to work late into the night. They find it almost impossible to own their home unless they have wealthy parents. As a result, many of them give up on marriage or decide not to have children.
And yet, you should not give up on your dreams however hard your situation may be. All of us have the right to dream, to fulfill dreams, and to be happy. I have a dream – the dream of making another world with you. You are not alone. There is nothing you cannot do if you work together.
Let’s dream together. Let’s march together. Let’s be stars shining together. I, Park Won-soon will remain your friend forever.
Dreams shared by many people become reality. Particles of dust stick together to form stars. Please hold the hand of the one right next to you, and you two will become one.