Reflecting on DC

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2013-2014 Humphrey Fellows gathered at the U.S. Capitol for a group photo. Photo credits: IIE

My visit to the nation’s capital, Washington DC for the Humphrey Program’s Global Leadership Forum left me with such good experiences, memories, and most importantly, a greater sense of my potential to make a difference.

It was the first gathering of the entire 2013-14 class of 180 Humphrey Fellows from 93 countries  spread across 17 host campuses in the US. There was hardly a moment for rest in a jam-packed five-day agenda, which included tours of DC, a special reception at the US Department of State, site visits, interactive simulation exercises and group discussions centered on this year’s theme – Confronting Global Challenges: A Focus on Climate Change.

But for me, the most unforgettable experience of them all was the welcome dinner and the special invitation to sit at the head table and share the company of the Humphrey family, the Director of the Humphrey Fellowship Program, the Chief of the Humphrey Fellowships at the US State Department, and the Distinguished Professor of History at American University, who would enlighten us on the impressive legacy of Hubert H. Humphrey.

What an extraordinary and indescribable feeling. To be numbered among the 180 Fellows in a program named after this great man, to share conversations with his immediate family and develop a rapport that would later extend well beyond the dinner experience.

Many times throughout this year, I’ve wondered what it was that the selection panel saw in me that would make me worthy of the honor of being named a Humphrey Fellow.

It was this visit to DC, the chance to interact with Vice President Humphrey’s niece and Dr. John Sedlins of the Department of State, the many opportunities to learn about the man, the fellowship, my other fellows and alumni like Illac Diaz who go on to change their communities in phenomenal ways that I finally got my answer.

Here are some excerpts from Dr. Sedlin’s remarks at the Welcome Reception.

Until now, most of you were names on applications which emerged from the highly competitive Humphrey review process…You are a remarkable group of individuals, a veritable United Nations of diversity, talent and potential.

We also know that you have overcome many challenges and obstacles to be here.  Most of you sacrificed something to be here tonight – a job perhaps, or your presence in a close-knit family… For all those sacrifices, all the courageous decisions and the hard work, we thank you.  Now it’s up to you to use the opportunity you have earned to its fullest – to benefit yourself, your family, your community and your country.

As you think about the goals you hope to achieve this year, I would offer this observation from the American-born poet T.S. Eliot – “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

The over-arching goal of these programs is a simple yet profound one – to build mutual understanding between the people of the United States and people of other countries…The skills you develop in pursuit of this goal will not only help you better understand Americans and American culture, but will help you better understand and work with one another in your campus groups, and may even help you better understand yourself.   I hope that this Forum inspires you to devote yourself to the pursuit of mutual understanding, and to applying that understanding to make a difference in the world.

Hubert Humphrey was a leader and visionary…He was often called the “Happy Warrior” – always a beacon of hope looking toward the future… If he were here tonight, I feel certain he would challenge each of you to be beacons of hope as well.

It has been said that a ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.  I urge you to use your Humphrey year to journey beyond the safe harbor – to test and develop your leadership skills.

The great American writer Mark Twain summed it up well. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore. Dream.  Discover.”

Did you get goose-bumps too?


Learn more about Humphrey Alumnus Illac Diaz’ Liter of Light project – the embodiment of Humphrey Fellows’ mandate to make a difference, be a beacon of hope, a ray (or in this case a liter) of light to the world.