Remarks
Tara Sonenshine
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Washington, DC
August 7, 2012


Muchas gracias. Thank you, Fabiola.

I would also like to thank and welcome Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Feeley, and all of you. I’d also like to welcome all the representatives from the Embassy of Mexico, our private sector partners, World Learning staff, and our Department of State officials. The success of this program has been possible for the past three years in large part because of your commitment to help young people take that important first step in making a real difference in their communities.

It is really delightful to see all of you here today. So please, give each of your colleagues a nice round of applause. You deserve it.

I want to congratulate you all. You must be so proud. And let me say in my best Spanish … Bienvenidos al Departamento de Estado. Felicidades por completar este importante programa. Ustedes han dado el primer paso para convertirse en protagonistas de un futuro positivo en México.

For those of you who couldn’t understand what I said: Congratulations on making the very courageous and far sighted decision to become leaders for a positive future in Mexico. You have shown that you are leaders.

Now, some of you may be thinking: Woo hoo! This is just a community service project. How is that leadership? Why am I such a central part of my country’s future?

You know why? Just being here today. You have already proved so much. You have shown that you believe in yourself enough, to come to the United States, learn things, meet new people, and develop a vision that you will take to your communities in Mexico. You have traveled to new places, met new people, volunteered, practiced and learned new leadership skills, and worked on projects that will improve your own communities.

Those are some of the essential ingredients of leadership.

When you take part in exchanges like Jóvenes en Acción, you become part of a vibrant bridge of people, ideas, services, and relationships between our countries. The relationships and networks you have forged, the experiences you have had, the lessons you have learned – these are all part of what we call public diplomacy. By that, I mean the very important and ongoing business of people working with people for a greater good.

You are officially public diplomats. How many of you have made a friend on this trip?

As soon as you make a friend, create a business or trading relationship, invest in a community, or trade ideas, that bridge widens. But without the presence of community members like you, the relationship between countries becomes a narrow footbridge. And the only people crossing it are world leaders, select business people and trained diplomats.

But you also matter. In this globalized economy, where so much is at stake – and where our countries stand to gain so much with positive connections – we can’t afford to miss out.

That is why we invest in services and programs to help young people, especially, improve their communities. We do this through institutions in Mexico, through exchange programs, and through partnerships with the Mexican Government, nongovernmental institutions, and private sector partners.

It’s important that we do this, so you can realize your God given potential, realize your capacity to achieve personal success, and serve as leaders of your communities. The more we maximize all those people-to-people friendships, community projects, investments, transactions, marriages, futbol games – and many other things – the more we bring our citizens together.

I’d like everyone to take this moment to really show their appreciation for the ingenuity and entrepreneurship you have shown – and for the way you are doing your part to bring our countries closer. So at this moment, we pause and applaud you.

As graduates, you’re joining a very good community.

Three alumni from Ciudad Juarez – Nancy Soto, Juan Manuel Martinez, and Alma Aveytia – formed a group called Jóvenes Frontera. They enlisted 60 of their peers and started a Christmas giving campaign – distributing toys, clothes, and other goods to different community organizations.

Not only that, they organized a series of leadership seminars to reach more youth in the community – maybe some of you attended these workshops. The workshops introduced more young people to the leadership and team building skills you have learned about and developed during this program.

Four young women from last year’s alumni developed a program called Express It! Have you heard of Express It? They help people in one of Tijuana’s youth shelters learn nonviolent ways to address their anger and frustrations. They encourage them to express themselves in dance, the visual arts, theater, and music. On a recent Saturday, the boys made decorations for their home, provided theatrical sound effects for a short story, and learned jazz dance.

There are so many more examples like this. We hope that you will soon be doing things, too, so that we can share your achievements with next year’s Jóvenes en Acción alumni.

Fabiola mentioned our alumni network, but did you know that as of today you join more than 1 million people around the world who are alumni of our exchange programs? Did you know that one of you will be a Nobel Laureate? Did you know one of you will be a world leader? You’d better look around and see.

We see this wherever we go in the world. For example, Secretary Clinton is touring through Africa, meeting with young people and leaders right now. Last week in Senegal, she met the Foreign Minister who is an alumna of our Humphrey Fellowship exchange program. These programs matter and they help make people like you.

We welcome you to that worldwide community. I encourage you all to use the many resources available to you to keep your connections strong. It can be through email, or Facebook, or the Mexican Alumni Association, AMEB (Asociación Mexicana de Ex-Becarios), or the Department of State alumni website.

Take advantage of all of it to keep these linkages and connections strong. I look forward to hearing from you and learning more about your projects at the reception following the ceremony. I hope, too, that you’ll stay in touch with those you met and worked with and studied with in the United States. And I look forward to continuing this partnership between our countries.

So, congratulations once again – and thank you for making such a difference. Good luck on your return home.