Remarks to Canadian Youth Ambassadors

Heather Higginbottom
Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources 
Washington, DC
August 6, 2015

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM:  Thank you.  Thank you so much, Karen, and welcome to the State Department.  It is such a pleasure to get to meet with you and talk with you this afternoon.  I’m really pleased that I could be here, and I first wanted to congratulate you on being youth ambassadors.  I understand this was an incredibly competitive process and a very small percentage of those who applied to be a part of this program were successful in doing so, so congratulations.  We’re thrilled that you’re here and that you’re a part of this program.

I understand you’ve been in upstate New York – really far upstate New York – for a while.  I grew up in upstate New York, but further down south toward the Pennsylvania border.  But when I saw that you were at SUNY Plattsburgh – and I grew up in a town where there’s another SUNY school, so I feel a little bond with you all.

And not just for that, either.  It’s also the purpose of this program I really, really admire and am inspired by – one that’s focused on civic education and community service and social inclusion.  Those are very much the core fundamentals that really motivated me to pursue a career in public service, and so I get the opportunity to speak to a lot of exchange programs.  And I think they’re all terrific and they have different purposes and they bring people from different places to the United States, and we send people to different places.  But when I was reading about your program and I was looking at what you were studying and learning, I was really excited by it and only wished I’d had an opportunity like this when I was your age.

And I think this program is really neat because of the focus on service and giving back, and there’s a huge and impressive record of accomplishments of youth ambassadors.  And I know we’re going to get a few minutes for some Qs and As, and I’m really eager to hear about the things that you’re excited to do and that you’re hoping to take from this and to bring back and to learn, and I think it’s a terrific opportunity.  I had a chance to read your bios, and I have to say, it’s a very impressive and humbling group.  People have a lot of good ideas, are doing great work already, so congratulations on all of that.

As Karen mentioned, I have a role here I’ll just tell you very briefly about, which is to help manage both our budget, our resources, the security of our operations overseas, working on some foreign policy issues; and then really helping to make this organization, which is complex and has a lot of – a big footprint overseas and an important role here in Washington in the policy process, work as effectively as it can.  And so one of the things that we try to do is really work on modernizing and updating and bringing the federal government as a whole, but here in the State Department, forward.  And we depend on our younger officers, our younger staff to give us good ideas, to help keep us current.

And so I just mention that because I think that the power of people serving their country, joining a government agency, working their communities, sharing ideas and really promoting them is really important.  And so I share that with you only because we turn all the time to younger folks in this department to give us good ideas, and I hope that you’ll see your role in your communities when you get back home in much the same way.

As Karen said, another reason why this is a really special opportunity is because Canada is one of our closest allies, and we cooperate on a whole range of issues, everything from humanitarian assistance to anti-terrorism efforts.  We share a common border, history; we’ve got family ties that span the border.  But one of the most important things that really binds our countries together is our shared values: embracing diversity, civic engagement, freedom, democracy.  And so it’s really special to have the opportunity to welcome you here today.

I just wanted to hit on a couple of the themes that you all have been exploring as it relates to our foreign policy and some of the work that we do.  And one of those, from reading about the program, what you’re studying, is social inclusion.  And it’s such an important part of our foreign policy.  Racial and ethnic equality and gender equity, social inclusion – they’re critical to democratic stability.  And whatever continent we’re working in, whatever country we’re in, working with our foreign government counterparts, these are at the heart of conversations that we’re having and ways in which we’re trying to strengthen relationships and help build democratic, prosperous societies overseas.  So I really can relate to the focus that you have on that, and both in my own work but also in what this department does and in our foreign policy.  And so I really appreciate that.

I think this is a really important moment to – as you’re kind of coming to the end of this, to reflect on what you’ve learned and then what you’re going to go back and do, and how you can benefit from this experience and stay in touch with us and build those – continue to build those relationships and share them with people in your community and be able to extend, as Karen said, the people-to-people network that is so important. 

And then I make this pitch every time I talk to younger audiences.  And so even though you won’t necessarily be coming to work in the United States federal government, just make a big push for public service in general.  We here – and when I think about the federal government and bringing people in for the next generation to really power our policies across the board, it’s so important that we get smart, ambitious, hard-working people who have the right values and the right focus.  And you all have that.  And so as you go back home and think about how to contribute in your communities and your society, I’d just make a big plug for public service.  I think it’s the most powerful sector that one can work in regardless of where you do it.  And they need – any government would need great leaders like you.

So I have a quote here that one of my staff members gave me which I think is really great.  It’s a quote from Roberta Bondar, the first Canadian woman in space.  “Society needs heroes to rejuvenate, re-energize, and renew itself with visions of the possible.  That’s what heroes do.”  I think that’s a great quote; I’m going to keep that one.  So I really subscribe to that view, and I think that this program is an embodiment of that as well.

So I’m going to pause there.  I don’t want to just talk at you.  I’d love to hear from you about what you’re doing, what you’re interested in, any questions that you want to ask of me about what we do here.  I’ll stop there.