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Powell Reception for Humphrey Fellows & Diplomats

Reception for Humphrey Fellows and Foreign Diplomats

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Remarks at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
Washington, DC
November 15, 2004

(7:15 p.m. EST)

Thank you very much, thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you so much. It's been a busy day. (Laughter) And no better way to end the day than to be with you this evening. And I'm so pleased to have all of you here and Allan, I thank you for the great work that you do in support in our programs. And it is such a joy to see so many of our fellows here in national dress enlivening this occasion and enlivening this room. And Pat Harrison, I thank you for your kind introduction, but much more than that, I thank you for the great service that you perform for the Department, for the nation and for the cause of peace throughout the world by bringing people together.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to all of you to our diplomatic rooms here on the eighth floor of the State Department. In this room, we swear in all of our new ambassadors. This is also where I swear in all of our new junior officers, all of our civil servants. It's a very important room for us.

And on this particular occasion we are not swearing in or welcoming new American ambassadors, but we are receiving ambassadors, both official representatives from over 80 countries, as well as this year's 174 Humphrey Fellowship winners. Ambassadors to the United States from their nations, and we hope when we are through with your program and when you are through with your program you will really be, in some ways, ambassadors from the United States back to your home countries, taking back to your home countries what you have learned here, what you have seen here, what you have experienced here. All of that, I think, benefits both of our nations.

This room, the Benjamin Franklin Room, is one of our many diplomatic reception rooms up on this floor and I hope that in the course of the evening you will wander around, which I do all the time. You will see that each of the rooms up here is named for one of America's founding fathers. In addition to the Franklin Room that we are in, there are rooms for John Adams and for Thomas Jefferson, for James Madison and James Monroe.

Aside from being first-rate diplomats, America's early statesmen all shared a vision for their young nation. They believed that openness to new people, openness to novel ideas, competing convictions is a defining feature of the American soul. A free and open society tempered by a decent respect, as they said, for the opinions of mankind is the best way to promote knowledge and understanding both here, at home, and around the world.

Preserving America's unique openness has always been a challenge, especially in times of war. Since the September 11th attacks, our nation has been living with a new threat -- a kind of threat we had never faced before, and we have been working hard to strike a proper balance between the needs to protect our society, protect our people, and, at the same time, ensure our liberties and make sure we remain an open society, an open nation.

President Bush has been very clear that America will never sell its soul to terror. We will never be slaves to fear. America will always be a warm and welcoming land, a place to live and to work, to visit and to study. I want to assure all of you that we are doing everything we can and striving to do even more to remain open and safe, free and vigilant, but at the same time make sure that everybody knows we want you here.

This year's Humphrey Fellows are living proof that America will always honor our highest ideals, especially in dangerous times, when the temptation might be to move in the other direction. And today, as we begin our celebration of International Education Week, we welcome the largest group of Humphrey Fellows in ten years, the third largest number of winners in the fellowship's 26-year history. And all of you will join a community of over 570,000 foreign students who are currently studying all across America. We have promised you an experience of an open society, and we are keeping that promise.

In the coming year, you will have an unprecedented opportunity to live and learn in the United States, and your education will reach far beyond the classroom. You have been chosen for this experience not only because of your professional accomplishments. You have been selected because you also possess a passion for public service, a commitment you have demonstrated in your home countries.

All of you are future leaders, both in your professional fields and among your fellow citizens. You are a privileged and promising group. And this wonderful experience will put you in touch with America's next generation of leaders. Together you will build the partnerships and lay the foundations for future collaboration and exchange. You will work together to apply the best knowledge we have to the biggest challenge we face as one international community: Promoting democratic principles, creating free and vibrant economies, curing HIV/AIDS. These are not simply American goals that we are trying to accomplish. They are universal goals, universal human aspirations.

We are confident that the skills you acquire and the friendships you forge here in the United States will benefit all humankind. One of you may help your country chart its long-awaited course to freedom and democracy. Another one of you could advance progress toward the cleaner environment that people everywhere desire and deserve. Still another one of you could make the medical breakthrough that eases the suffering of millions.

The Humphrey Fellowship will open doors to untold opportunities for all of you. But remember, you are not only here to learn, you are also here to educate. The presence of students and visitors from every corner of the globe enriches the American people. You are here to share your experience of life, to offer your American friends, your American peers, a new set of eyes through which to view the world and a new set of ideas with which to understand it.

This is the pledge America's founding generation made to posterity. Our nation does not have all of the answers, but we will always defend an open society in which diverse minds with diverse opinions are empowered to seek truth in freedom. In the following year and for the rest of your lives, all of you must contribute to this unfolding story of education and exchange.

America is a nation of nations. We are touched by every nation and we, in turn, touch every nation. You will leave a part of yourself here in America and take a part of America that will be with you always. This exchange enriches us all, so make the most of this tremendous experience. Share what you learn about America and about yourself with all of your friends and your family members and your fellow citizens. Most importantly, always work to advance the search for greater understanding through openness and exchange. That is the essence of these kinds of programs.

I have been exposed in the course of my public service to many such programs. The first one I really got to know was when I was a young Captain at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1964, -3 and -4, when I first encountered military students from other countries that were studying at Fort Benning, Georgia. And I got to know so many of them. I learned so much about their countries, and we stayed in touch for many years.

I saw it again at Fort Leavenworth when I was a young Major at the Command and General Staff College. And many of the officers from other lands that I met during that year became lifelong friends and we rose through the ranks together. And some of them were commanding their armed forces at the time that I was serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Such enrichment, such cultural experience -- in the last year I have gone to countries that have just emerged from authoritarian regimes, and the individuals I meet there, the new leaders, the new leaders who have come in, won elections, and now are pushing democracy start out by telling me, "I was a Humphrey Fellow," or "I had a Fulbright scholarship," or "I studied there," or "I studied there." It's amazing. So many military officers I've met over the years said, "When were you at Leavenworth, General?" to see if they were there at the same year that I was there. It's amazing.

And the most amazing part of programs like these is you will go to schools and you will do other things, but what I find so exciting is what you have seen and what you take away that has nothing to do with the program itself, but it has everything to do with the value of the program.

I'll illustrate this a little bit. I love going around the world and talking to young people, especially those who have been to the United States in one of these fellowship programs. But I've learned over time that when I'm in a group talking about this, I can say to them, "Well, what did you learn in the United States and now what do you want to do?" And they all will say, "Oh, I learned a lot and I'm going to be a foreign minister and I'm going to be a president, I'm going to be a prime minister." (Laughter.) And I'll go, "Yeah, okay, right." (Laughter.)

And after a while, that gets a little old because I'm essentially talking to the best and the brightest; they all have 1600 SAT scores and things that I never could have dreamed of when I was their age. And so I learned recently to not ask the question quite that way. I usually now ask the question in the following way: "What did you see during your time in the United States that you found weird," -- (laughter) -- "funny, sad, that bothered you, that made you mad or that troubled you? Tell me about something that you found different and interesting about the United States."

And that usually slows them down for a minute as they look around, because that's not what they were expecting. (Laughter.) They wanted to talk about being prime ministers. (Laughter.) And then finally one of them in this group that I had recently -- it was in Brazil, 12 young people, six of them I had met earlier when they had their fellowship here a year earlier. And finally, one young man off to the right said, "I'll tell you what I found really weird." "What was that?" "That people laughed at me when I poured ketchup on my pizza." (Laughter.) I said, "You poured ketchup on your pizza?" I said, "Isn't there enough tomato on your pizza to begin with?" (Laughter.) "You know, people thought that was weird."

And that encouraged another young gentleman to raise his hand. He said, "I'll tell you, the weirdest thing I saw is when we went to your schools and they served ketchup for lunch, or pizza, and they put some ketchup on the table and they served pizza for lunch, all of the kids drank milk with their pizza." (Laughter.) "That's the strangest thing we've ever seen." I said, "Well, come back again and I'll teach you about the American dairy industry and the dairy lobby in the United States." (Laughter.)

And then they got a little serious and one young girl said, "I have a story. We were at a restaurant in Chicago, twelve of us, and we had dinner -- a Rustler's or a steakhouse -- something like that. And when it was time to check out and we put all of our money together, we only had enough money for ten. There were 12 of us. So we were short. And we don't know what happened or how we miscalculated, but we only had enough money for ten. And that was it.

"And here we are, ten young Brazilian students who have, you know, not found enough money to pay for a meal. So we talked among ourselves. We didn't know what to do. Finally, the waitress came over and we said, 'We have a problem. We don't have any money. We can't pay the whole bill. We can only pay part of the bill.'

"And the waitress looked and asked a question or two, and then she went away. And the young people in this strange country, in this strange city of Chicago, were terrified that the next thing you know, the police were going to come through the door." (Laughter.)

"And the waitress came back a couple of minutes later and she said, 'It's okay, don't worry about it. Glad you're here in the United States and we hope you enjoy your time here.' And the youngsters looked back at her and said, 'But won't you have to pay out of your salary?' And she said, 'It's okay; I've talked to the manager. It's okay. We're just so glad to have you here. Please enjoy your time here.'" And those young people left and they never forgot that. They told me the story six, eight months later.

It's these kinds of experiences which you will have, these kind of experiences that you will take home that will tell you a little bit more about what America is all about, but more importantly, what Americans are all about, what we believe in, what our values system is like, how we like people from other lands, how we are all people from other lands at some point or another, just as my parents came to this land 70 years ago.

And so the value of these programs is the skills, the education and all of the other technical expertise you acquire, but most importantly, it's what you learn about who we are and what we are.

One final war story: We had an exchange program with some senior officers from the Soviet Union when I was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and we had them going around the country. And this was still in the old days of the Cold War. The Cold War had not yet ended. And these generals came to the United States and there wasn't anything we could show them that would impress them or they wouldn't say, "We have the same thing." "See our missile?" "We got a missile." (Laughter.) "See our tank plant?" "We got tank plants."

And so I started to take them to different places, Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, the Cadillac plant at Hamtramck. They didn't have a Cadillac plant. (Laughter.) But I wanted to show them other parts of America. So we had them at the base in San Diego, the Marine base in San Diego, and as the story is related to me many months later, they were fast asleep one morning when they heard: Boom! A gun go off. And they all leapt up. They went running to the window to see what happened, and they looked out, and expecting to see I don't know what.

But they looked out the window of San Diego at the Recruit Depot and they saw everybody standing still in the streets, all the cars at every corner had stopped, and the drivers and passengers had gotten out of the cars. And they wondered what was going on, and then they looked and they saw where the cannon was and the flagpole in front of the cannon and the American flag was being raised. Something we do at all of our military bases in the morning when we raise the flag and then again in the evening when we lower it. And everybody is supposed to stop, if they're within earshot or eyeshot of this, and pay respects to the flag.

And they told this to our people later: "When we saw that and realized what your country was all about, and the values that moved your Marines and soldiers and sailors, we realized that we didn't understand the power and strength of America or of your armed forces. And it wasn't the power and strength of your equipment that impressed us. It was the power and strength of your values system."

So all of you Humphrey Fellows who are here tonight, just reflect on these stories and keep your eyes open constantly. Let me know, when the time presents itself, whether milk should or should not be served with pizza. (Laughter.) Tell me what you see or tell the people who are working with you what you see as you go around. Carry home these impressions to your country because it breaks down barriers, it breaks down walls, it breaks down differences.

And we find that when these differences are removed, when these walls are broken down, we are all one. We are all of one humankind. Every one of us, from whatever country, has the same desire for our children, the same desire for a decent job, the same desire for a home, the same desire for a doctor when you need one, food when you need it, the same desire to be able to provide for your family. That's what all of us want and that's what we all should work on having in all of our countries, and there is no better way to move in that direction than programs such as this.

So thank you so very, very much for being here this evening, and enjoy the reception. Thank you.

(Applause.)

2004/1235

[End]

Released on November 16, 2004


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