Jacinda Ardern last week told members of the College Historical Society (the Hist) that the “unrelenting” pressure of public life in the era of social media is the new reality for those in office.
The former prime minister of New Zealand was speaking at a private ceremony in the provost’s house, at which she was awarded the society’s Gold Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Public Discourse.
“There’s not a 24-hour news cycle now, there’s like a 20-minute news cycle,” Ardern said of the way in which technology has transformed media coverage, adding that “there’s a constant judgement [from] social media that [makes] life unrelenting.”
Ardern described having asked former chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel upon her retirement in 2021 how she served 16 years in office: “She was quick to say, ‘it’s so different now to when I started’.”
The former leader also discussed the challenges she faced during her time in office, including the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Whakaari/White Island volcano eruption which killed 22 people in 2019, and the Christchurch mosque shootings which killed 51 earlier the same year.
She added that while her decision to resign prompted feelings of guilt, she felt that such challenges had taken their toll: “I did not believe that, were there to be another crisis, I had enough [left in me] to do it well and fulfil my responsibility.”
Ardern is the sixth person to receive the society’s Gold Medal this term, with activist Stella Assange, historian Dónal Fallon, and United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland Joseph Kennedy III having visited the Hist earlier this year.
The medal is awarded to public figures who “represent the Hist values on the world stage”. Previous recipients include President Michael D. Higgins, writer Margaret Atwood, and Noam Chomsky.
Ardern was awarded the medal for her contributions to politics and sustainability in New Zealand and globally.
At the ceremony she discussed the importance of addressing the climate crisis and her government’s environmental record, as well as the challenges of diplomacy for small countries.
Ardern also spoke about her experience of debating in school, which she said played a “huge role” in developing her confidence as a public speaker.
The private ceremony was attended by members of the committee, as well as a handful of alumni of the society.
The ceremony ended with closing remarks from Provost Linda Doyle, who thanked Ardern for her attendance and the Hist for organising the event.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Ardern is the fourth person to receive the society’s gold medal this year rather than the sixth. Trinity News apologises for this error.