An important educational pillar of the United States Senate Youth Program’s Washington Week is the annual keynote event with an Ambassador to the United States. The delegates gain firsthand insight into international affairs and diplomacy through this intimate and interactive discussion. In recent years, Ambassadors to the United States from Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Pakistan, Russia, Sweden and Turkey have spoken and enjoyed spirited question-and-answer sessions with these engaged young leaders.
For the USSYP class of 2018, Canadian Ambassador to the United States David MacNaughton delved into some of the most critical issues facing our neighboring nations: trade, income inequality, immigration, diversity and health care, to name a few. The focus of his remarks, however, was the importance of public service. A summer job for the Minister of Transport in his youth “was the beginning of my involvement in public policy,” he reminisced.
The Ambassador lauded “people who make the conscious decision to make the world a better place.” It can become easy to feel that the problems are overwhelming, he sympathized, “if you only pay attention to the daily headlines, you’d think the world is getting worse and worse. In fact, it’s not. Human beings, as a whole, have never led better lives than they lead today. These gains reflect improvements in health, nutrition, education and income, and the decline in the levels of violence around the world. You’re living in a world of unprecedented opportunity, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.”
Ambassador MacNaughton credited the consistent work of dedicated individuals in creating this steady progress in society. “Public service is really about the public good, and the public good is all about bringing together diverse ideas and values and forging a solution that works for everyone in the country. It’s complex. It’s complicated; there are never easy answers to big policy questions. There is no mathematical bottom line, as there is in business, that tells you if you’ve had a good day or a bad day. But that’s part of what makes public service so compelling and so rewarding. It’s the constant search to help find solutions to create an environment where the public good is best served,” he explained.
His words of encouragement led to a call for action, “We need to hear your voices as young people and as the future generation of leaders.” Acknowledging the evolving society we live in, the Ambassador stressed a key point about public service in his home nation, “It’s very important in public service, that the men and women who serve our county reflect a diversity of its population. We believe that diversity is a great strength.”
The Ambassador’s wisdom and humor made the evening in the Grand Ballroom memorable, and he concluded by reinforcing the necessity of diplomacy, saying “Any time people are sitting down to talk, as opposed to yelling at each other, I think that’s good news. I know you will all leave the world a better place than it is today. It’s going to be a big challenge, but I am sure you are up to it,” he proclaimed as delegates gathered near him for handshakes and words of appreciation.
A cherished USSYP tradition, the Ambassador luncheon or dinner brings an international perspective to the policy-focused week. In conjunction with the annual State Department visit, delegates leave their Senate Youth Program experience immersed in the possibilities of public service at the local, national and international levels.
© Photos by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin