In her final speech to New Zealand’s Parliament on Wednesday, Jacinda Ardern described in emotional terms how she’d navigated a pandemic and a mass shooting during her tumultuous five-year tenure as prime minister.
“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 crier, a hugger – you can be all of these things,” she said, tearfully.
“And not only can you be here; you can lead. Just like me.”
Ardern announced her shock resignation in January, saying she had “no more in the tank” after five years in power and would not seek reelection in the October polls.
When Ardern became prime minister in 2017 at the age of 37 she was New Zealand’s third female leader and one of the youngest leaders in the world. Within a year, she had become only the second world leader to give birth in office.
In her Wednesday speech, Ardern said the role was one “I never thought I was meant to have” when seven weeks out from a general election she was nominated leader of the Labour Party.
“It was a cross between a sense of duty to steer a moving freight train and being hit by one, and that’s probably because my internal reluctance to lead was matched only by a huge sense of responsibility,” she said.
Ardern’s time in power was defined by multiple crises, including the 2019 Christchurch terror attack – which killed 51 people at two mosques – a deadly volcanic explosion and a global pandemic that prompted unpopular lockdowns.
Ardern said she found herself “in people’s lives during the most grief-stricken or traumatic moments” and that “their stories and faces remain etched in my mind and likely will for ever.”