Young people act as generators of ideas and important diplomatic interlocutors all over the world. Perhaps like never before, youth has agency and a resounding voice in leading their nations toward brighter tomorrows. Encouraging them to use their voices and keen understanding of the connectivity of human kind is one of the most inspiring and rewarding activities one can engage in and it’s something Mark and I love to do. Thus, on one of the coldest Chicago days in decades, we navigated the frigid sidewalks of Hyde Park to speak at the Institute of Politics on modern diplomacy and the work being advanced with the fantastic U.S. Embassy team in Sweden. See photos from the event here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uchicagopolitics/sets/72157639529573046/
What does politics mean to you?
This is the question asked by a student videographer of every speaker that comes to IOP— a nonpartisan extracurricular program led by political strategist David Axelrod— to engage with university students on public service and good political citizenship. For me, politics means a voice. As a new immigrant to the United States, the political process gave my mother a voice as a local Southwest Side of Chicago precinct captain for the Democratic Party and allowed my family to become quickly and seamlessly interwoven in our country’s vibrant political discourse.
They became Americans because they voted, they were activists and they used their voices for change. Personally, I’ve humbly tried to follow in their footsteps and speak out for issues I believe in such as women’s empowerment and good business values. And I’m proudly married to a man for whom public service is the highest calling, and who takes his role as an emissary of President Obama abroad with the utmost sense of seriousness, responsibility and honor.
The temperatures that morning matched those of Kiruna in January, a fitting touch as Mark would be discussing the Arctic in his remarks. We both imagined a younger Professor Barack Obama trudging through those same wintry streets, perhaps already having a sense of the great positive change he would enact one day. The thought gave us great inspiration as we prepared to address a full room of University of Chicago’s finest students hailing from China to Wisconsin, Poland to Gothenburg, Sweden!
The international make-up of the group was fitting as the highlight of the afternoon would be the signing of a memorandum of understanding between U.S. Embassy Sweden and IOP to launch an internship program at the Embassy that summer. With a Swedish flag proudly hanging behind Mark and Darren Reisberg, the executive director of IOP, a few elegant swoops of two hands signified an amazing international exchange two students would be having with us!
Before the signing, Mark and I gave a presentation entitled “U.S.-Sweden: Shared Responsibilities for Humanity’s Future”. We began by defining what modern diplomacy means: interpreting key policies and themes of a President’s vision, uplifting shared values and reaching out. President Obama is a leader who has focused on inclusivity, partnership and a new role for America in the world. As President he has uplifted and engaged people and groups who have not traditionally been engaged. At the Embassy the concept of reaching out to all citizens— minorities, new immigrants, women, youth, homosexuals— is a central priority that’s reflected in the Embassy’s “Diversity Dialogues”, Youth Councils, women’s empowerment initiatives and entrepreneurship focused on immigrant entrepreneurship. In fact, all Embassy initiatives are steeped in tolerance, openness, transparency and inclusion.
Next we presented a set of great visuals to outline the five key themes and Embassy priorities: Security (working with Sweden globally); the Arctic, Environment and Sustainability; Innovation and Entrepreneurship; Gender Equality; and People-to-People Engagement. The Embassy has been fortunate to attract a set of high-level visitors that have helped the team highlight all of these priorities.
However, no one was able to crystallize and spotlight the shared values between Sweden and the United States like the President of the United States, Barack Obama. The historic President came to Sweden on a historic visit; President Obama was the first U.S. President to ever visit Sweden on an official bi-lateral visit.
Whether it was speaking at the Great Synagogue on the eve of Rosh Hashanah to honor the legacy of Raoul Wallenberg or going to Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology to learn about innovations in green technology and sustainability, the President magnified everything the U.S. Embassy has been working so tirelessly to advance and took the relationship to a new and more robust level. I don’t think any of us will ever forget the President skipping down the steps of Air Force One and stepping on Swedish soil for the first time, nor the inspiration his visit gave to a new, young generation of Swedes (and Americans!) wanting to have a voice in their communities and enact change.
Thank you IOP for inviting us to speak and welcoming us so warmly! Looking forward to future collaborations!