Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was in “two minds” about being made Dame Grand Companion but said she’s “incredibly humbled” by it.
Dame Jacinda is one of 182 people to receive the King’s Birthday and Coronation Honours on Monday, but the only one to be made a Dame or Knight Grand Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
She received the honour for her services to the state and it’s the second-highest available after the Order of New Zealand, for which ordinary membership is limited to 20 living persons at any time.
Dame Jacinda didn’t want to speak publicly but said in a statement she was “incredibly humbled” by the honour.
She admitted she was in “two minds” about accepting the honour but said she was encouraged to by so many Kiwis.
“I was in two minds about accepting this acknowledgement. So many of the things we went through as a nation over the last five years were about all of us rather than one individual,” Ardern said.
“But I have heard that said by so many Kiwis who I have encouraged to accept an honour over the years. And so for me this a way to say thank you – to my family, to my colleagues, and to the people who supported me to take on the most challenging and rewarding role of my life.”
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, who succeeded Ardern, said she was recognised for leading New Zealand through some of the “greatest challenges” the country has faced in modern times.
“Leading New Zealand’s response to the 2019 terrorist attacks and to the COVID-19 pandemic represented periods of intense challenge for our 40th Prime Minister, during which time I saw first-hand that her commitment to New Zealand remained absolute,” Hipkins said.
Dame Jacinda had an eventual six years as Prime Minister after being voted into power in September 2017 before stepping down in January.
She was the Member of Parliament for Mount Albert from January 2017 until April 2023 and led the Labour Party from August 2017, becoming the party’s youngest leader at age 37.
As Prime Minister, she led New Zealand’s response to the 2019 Christchurch terrorist attacks, leading Parliament to ban most semiautomatic weapons and assault rifles within a month of the attack.
She was praised here and abroad for her compassionate and quick response to a gunman who killed 51 people at two Christchurch mosques.
Following the global spread of COVID-19, she led New Zealand’s response from March 2020 through mitigation frameworks and accelerated vaccination efforts, positioning New Zealand as having one of the lowest COVID-19-related death rates in the Western world.
Her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was also lauded by overseas media but after six gruelling years, she announced in January, she would be resigning.
“I believe that leading a country is the most privileged job anyone could ever have, but also one of the more challenging. You cannot, and should not do it unless you have a full tank, plus, a bit in reserve for those unexpected challenges,” Dame Jacinda said when announcing her resignation.
“This summer, I had hoped to find a way to prepare for not just another year, but another term – because that is what this year requires. I have not been able to do that.
“And so today, I am announcing that I will not be seeking re-election and that my term as Prime Minister will conclude no later than the 7th of February.”
In April, Dame Jacinda announced her next career move, confirming she would be joining the prestigious Harvard University in Boston for a semester.
There, she will be a hauser leader in the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership and 2023’s angelopoulos global public leaders fellow.
She has since been named a special envoy to the Christchurch Call and joined the Earthshot board as a trustee.