From the moment he reached the podium, Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, spoke heart to heart with students on the edge of adulthood. He described his decision to follow a nontraditional path after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. He shared that it would have been easy to follow the crowd into the financial industry, something he had decided would not be as fulfilling as working in policy and journalism. “I took the path I believed in,” he said, “and I wanted to make a contribution. I had no idea that I was going to be Israel’s Ambassador to the United States. There was no master plan.” “Follow your heart,” he urged, “and study something you are interested in and passionate about.”
Ambassador Dermer’s experiences resonated with 2017 Wyoming delegate, Grace Belize Anderson. “My favorite quote from Washington Week was from Ambassador Ron Dermer. He said, ‘At age 17-18, you should not know what you are going to do with the rest of your life – that is scary because your mind is not open.’ I have never had a clear vision of what I want to do after I graduate from college. Hearing this really warmed my heart and encouraged me because I believe he is right. We need to keep an open mind and be ready for whatever door opens for us.”
Each year during Washington Week, Senate Youth delegates are fortunate to receive a perspective on America from overseas, and a specific window into the issues and culture from one of America’s important international partners. Ambassador Dermer provided both, and offered meaningful personal advice to the delegates. “To be Israel’s Ambassador to the United States is a unique experience, because we are blessed to have America as a friend,” he relayed. “There is no alliance and no friendship more important to us.”
He made very clear the mutual nature of this friendship, however, and the staunch promise Israel makes to us, “In the 20th century, your most important ally was Great Britain. I think in the 21st century, your most important ally will be Israel, and I will tell you why, and why I believe this alliance will grow,” he said. Noting that the Middle East, “with all of its dangers and all of its radicalism is not going to ‘pivot’ away from you.” He counseled that America will need Israel as a very strong ally who can protect American interests, project American values and be willing to fight common enemies in the region. “The fact that Israel celebrates International Women’s Day is an example of our shared values,” he said, noting that his is a country where a woman has served as head of all three branches of government: as prime minister, chief justice of the Supreme Court and speaker of the Knesset.
The Ambassador, born and raised in Miami, Florida, described his childhood: “In my house, when we were growing up, public service was seen as the highest calling,” he said. His father and brother, between them, have served five terms in his hometown mayor’s office. He acknowledged, though, that public service is not always the easiest path. “It’s difficult in the beginning because you go away from a lot of jobs that people are going towards, jobs that that might bring you more prestige or more money, but you are focus on what you think is important.”
Another key piece of advice he proffered was to seek out exceptional teachers and form bonds with them, saying that “If you meet somebody who inspires you, if you have a teacher that excites you about learning, then follow that teacher and learn from them whatever it is that they teach.”
Brains and chutzpah have been the cornerstones of Israel’s past, and may hold the keys to his country’s future, according to the Ambassador. The small nation of 8.5 million citizens is leading the world in cybersecurity investment, agricultural innovation, water recycling and is a global technological power. This chutzpah, or self-confidence and daring, encourages Israeli scientists to challenge accepted norms and propose new solutions.
It was apparent that from a young age that Ambassador Ron Dermer was surrounded by role models for education, leadership and public service. After spending time with the USSYP Class of 2017, he is now serving as a personal role model to America’s future leaders. The United States Senate Youth Program looks forward to continuing this tradition of international exchange and inspiration in March 2018.
Photos by Erin Lubin and Jakub Mosur