Ambassador’s Remarks at the Exchange Program Alumni Reception
Thursday, November 3, 2016, 7:00
I have a few remarks, of welcome. This is the first big reception that Mary and I have hosted here in our Residence. It’s not a coincidence, at all, that we are using this occasion to welcome to our home so many of you who have been participants in our various exchange programs.
I especially want to thank the many of you who travelled great distances. I met half of Thessaloniki, must be, a couple of people from Chania, one person who came all the way from Berlin who probably wins the mileage award! But I am very touched that so many of you would turn out this evening to welcome me and my wife, Mary, as we begin, what I see as, an incredibly important assignment, leading the American Mission here in Greece.
Tonight is an opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments that so many of you can point to in your own personal and professional lives. I want to underline for all of you how proud the U.S. Government and the Embassy are of the partnership that we have had and the investment that we made in all of your futures.
We have a broad range of programs that are represented here this evening: our International Visitor Leadership Program; the Fulbright Program, which is such a fantastic example of academic partnership, and is, in this case, the oldest in Europe and the second oldest Fulbright partnership anywhere in the world – I think that’s a wonderful comment on the depth of the ties between our two countries; some of you have been part of the Study of the American Institutes; the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowships, which I just love because they get people at the formative stages of their lives, as young students, to see and discover America; some of you have been part of press reporting tours, of NATO tours; and a couple of special Embassy-initiated ‘externships’ for civil society leaders.
As should be apparent from tonight’s event, I believe deeply in these programs. The foundation of our strongest bilateral relationships are people-to-people ties. And these programs represent a concrete investment in the future of the relationship between the United States and Greece.
I am especially impressed that so many of you have been so broadly travelled across the United States. I hope everybody saw the map here at the entranceway; people have put up little sticky notes with where they have been. And, as usual with these things, I am embarrassed that most of you have seen parts of the United States that I have never seen! So I think it’s a wonderful reminder of how deep these programs go.
I recognize and have discovered, been reminded repeatedly in my first month and a half in this job, of the many, many challenges that Greece confronts at this moment. But I have also been incredibly inspired by what I have seen of the potential in this country – the extraordinary human capital; the entrepreneurial energy; the extraordinary human decency that’s reflected in many of Greece’s leading civil society organizations and the response that you have offered, for instance, to the challenge of the refugee crisis; and, also, the resilience and courage which I think are, in many ways, defining characteristics of the people of Greece.
Our exchange programs are intended to add another layer to this national resilience. To help provide practical ideas and solutions from our experience in the United States that you can bring back, make into your own, and apply to help build the kind of modern, European, prosperous state in Greece which is so important to the United States.
We’ve got two big events coming up in the next two weeks – one is this little election, 5 days to go but who’s counting, and the other, of course, is the visit by President Obama. President Obama’s visit to Greece, the first presidential visit here since 1999, is a concrete manifestation of the American commitment to support the people of Greece and a manifestation of the clear recognition in Washington and in my government that what happens in Greece matters greatly to the United States, matters to Europe, and matters to the future of our transatlantic ties. And we will be your friends as you continue to navigate these challenges.
Our exchange programs, for more than 70 years, have helped to build the fiber and the structure of our bilateral relationship. I have been impressed this evening to meet many of you who have risen to the highest levels of leadership in your professions. And I think that’s a reflection of the wisdom and foresight of our predecessors at the Embassy. Also, the breadth of areas in which you are engaged. I have met people from the start-up sector; I have met people from civil society; I have met people from government; I have met people from entertainment and the arts – all of which are areas of excellence in Greece.
I am very, very proud of the contribution that we’ve been able to make through these programs. The strength of this group is your diversity. It’s wonderful to see so many young people. I met a couple of groups of exchange visitors that went out where they were observing that men were a minority, which is always a good thing! And so many of you have demonstrated the validity of that fact. I was especially glad to meet a couple of the participants in the Code Girls program – a fantastic project that brings together young women to learn about the power of technology, the transformative power of technology, to build a better future for all of us.
Tonight lets you to reflect back on your experiences. It also, I hope, gives you an opportunity to renew and expand your networks of your colleagues who have been part of these programs. These programs are an investment in our bilateral relationship but we also hope that they will be an investment in your professional futures. And, from that same point, maintaining these networks, supporting the alumni groups – and I know we’ve got leaders of those, our exchange alumni groups here this evening – these are opportunities to discuss the projects and activities that you’ve been involved with and, also, to exchange contact information and ideas. Again, this is about building networks, about strengthening human bonds.
I know that many of you are members of the Hellenic U.S. Alumni Association, had to check the name on that one, and the Fulbright Association, which I don’t have to check the name of! I want to encourage all of you to participate in these various bodies. I look forward to seeing many of you over the next three years that I’ll have the honor of being American Ambassador here.
And I hope that you also, as you develop ideas, as you network among yourselves, treat the Embassy as an open door. I am very conscious of the fact that I’m the new guy here. I’m learning. I want to spend a lot of my first weeks and months in Greece listening, understanding the challenges that Greece confronts, but also learning from you how best the United States can help Greece to overcome its various challenges and capitalize on the huge opportunities which are so clear to me in my first weeks in this country.
So, I hope that this will not be a one-time exchange between us but, rather, the start of an ongoing conversation. I am very, very proud of our Public Affairs team who are all represented here this evening, both the American officers and the Greek local employees, they are an extremely talented group but they’re also creative and energetic and I encourage you all to challenge them with ideas on how we can double down on the investments we’ve made.
Allow me now to raise a toast to each of you – to thank you for your participation in our programs and, of course, to wish you all continued success – στην γεια σας!