Good Evening Ms. Fu,
Mr. Lawton and members of the Board,
Mr. Culpepper and others who serve as a part of the staff of the International Affairs Council .
And certainly good evening to each of you who are in some way connected to or who support the work of the Council.
I believe Todd must be of the school of thought that there is no better disciple than a recent convert – as I am literally still recovering from my 24 day experience abroad as an American Marshall Memorial Fellow. In fact, I returned so recently that I had just gotten my internal clock reset when daylight savings time kicked in – providing another excuse for afternoon yawns and 5:00 a.m. sleeplessness.
Fortunately, the Fellowship certainly reset things other than my internal clock. It reset the way I think about everything from architecture to politics. It exposed me to conversations that I would not have had the opportunity to eavesdrop on, much less participate in actively, had I not become a Fellow. It reminded me of the value of conversations and dialogue, even if that dialogue was sometimes punctuated by either participant’s long pauses and puzzled looks.
It taught me that it is incorrect to say in simplified fashion that we all – at our core – want the same things from life, from our leaders, and from our careers. We really do think, act, and dream differently. Yet not withstanding that we are not all “the same,” we do have things in common and places where we can build common ground. It reminded me that the words of North Carolinian Tom Robbins are true: “Our similarities bring us to a common ground. Our differences allow us to be fascinated with one another.”
Admittedly, when I am asked to describe my favorite part of the Fellowship, my first thought is to recall those occasions when a European was puzzled by my accent and asked me what part of the United Kingdom I was from. It actually happened so many times that I began to just say “the South.”
While those encounters will be remembered for a long time, so will conversations like the one I had with the Serbian who declared that his country had no problems, because Serbia’s problems were the world’s problems and if the world would just fix them, the Serbians would be off the hook. Or the conversation I had with a Swede about why all the beautiful churches were empty. I will recall the discussion with the Portuguese about the attitude engrained in their thinking that they call “saudade” – their longing for a time of excitement and pleasure that they seem to have already concluded they were not really ever going to experience.
And I will remember the conversations with my fellow Americans. Each of us fascinated by different things. Each of us moved by different things. And each of us somehow changed – a bit different than we were before the Fellowship.
The gifts from my travel have mostly been distributed. The smoke smell is finally out of my clothes. My liver might also be back to normal. But my desire to continue the dialogue and conversation is just getting started. And while I certainly believe we do far more things right here in the United States than anybody else, it seems that we can always use a little more sincere dialogue and conversation. You, as a supporter of the Council, are filling that need – I hope that I can uphold my end of the bargain, to see to it that your investment in this farm kid from Sampson County pays off. Thank you, and enjoy your evening.