Remarks at the Launch of the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Partnership

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Loy Henderson Auditorium
Washington, DC
January 17, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Ben, thank you very, very much. Thanks for your incredible collaboration and leadership on all of this. Mr. Vice President, thank you for being here with us today. And Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, old pal, thank you for being here and being part of this. And Roberta Jacobson, I just – her ears should be burning because I just swore in a new class of civil servants here, and I just called her “the best of the best” and a whole bunch of things, and so – look at her, she’s – (laughter). But she is doing a spectacular job. And Evan Ryan, who’s not up here, shares efforts on this, and we have a great team. And it’s really exciting to be able to be engaged in this kind of an initiative.

I know Roberta from her time as an OAS fellow in Argentina. Really found her worldview shaped through that experience. And so she comes to this with a very personal kind of early commitment that really helps us to translate this into the program that it’s becoming and going to become. And Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, likewise. I’ve watched her for years and years and years as she and I –

MS. TOWNSEND: A hundred years. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, you know. You and I – I actually knew Kathleen when she was – that puts me in a different category, and I think Senator Biden, too. So whatever happens, I’m – (laughter) – I’m way the hell ahead of you, so relax. (Laughter.)

I’m really pleased to see that Steve Vetter is here. He leads the Partners of the Americas, and that’s created opportunities across the hemisphere for more than five decades, no small accomplishment. And I’m also happy that Steve Ferst is here from NAFSA, another organization which has done so much to promote these kinds of global exchanges.

And most of all, I want to thank the fellow to my left, the Vice President of the United States, for being with us because his presence here really underscores the Administration’s priority of creating shared prosperity across the hemisphere. On official visits to Panama, Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, and throughout his five years in the White House and well before that in the 30 years or so that he was on the Foreign Relations Committee, the Vice President has helped to make this priority a reality. And because of his pragmatic and personal commitment to this kind of diplomacy, connecting young people to the future, to opportunity – which is really getting people in touch with our values and their interests, and that marriage is critical. And the Vice President is a key asset for the President of the United States in helping us to engage and reach out in this kind of a program.

He and I both believe – as does President Obama. I think if there’s any topic that the President has put sort of first among equals, if you will, it’s education. And I – we share the belief, all of us here on this podium, education is the great equalizer of the 21st century, because of the dramatic changes that have taken place in the workplace and the challenges of globalization. And the success of many of the leaders in this room is, frankly, a testament to that reality. The Costa Rican ambassador, Muni Figueres, received her BA at City College in New York. Nester Mendez, the ambassador from Belize, did graduate work right down the street at George Washington. And Jose Antonio Meade, who I met with this morning in a trilateral with our friends from Canada, he is Mexico’s foreign secretary and he received his PhD at my alma mater, Yale University.

You have no idea how many people you meet – when I go around the world representing the country and meet a foreign minister, environment minister, finance minister, prime minister, president – who with pride talk about their time in the United States at one college or another or graduate school and what it has meant to shaping their views.

All of the people I just mentioned are distinguished diplomats who come from three different nations, and they pursued very different programs of study. But for each one of them, studying abroad in the United States helped them succeed in a much more internationalized world. As President Obama said last year in Mexico, “When we study together, we learn together, we work together, and we prosper together.” And that’s why the President launched this initiative of 100,000 Strong. It’s an ambitious goal: double the two-way traffic of young people studying in our respective universities.

So I’m proud to announce today that the State Department, with our partners in the private sector, have already raised – and we’ve just begun – have already raised a total of $3.65 million to promote study abroad and cross-cultural learning across the Americas. And as I said, that’s the beginning. We’re going to continue this effort.

These investments are going to help universities develop greater capacity to support study abroad, and they will challenge and reward institutions to find innovative ways to spur greater exchanges and to encourage schools and students who haven’t traditionally participated in this to come to see its value.

I am genuinely proud that the State Department is doing this, and I want to thank Santander Bank and ExxonMobil for their contribution as members of the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Founding Circle. I want to applaud Coca-Cola, Freeport McMoRan, and the Ford Foundation for being the initiative’s first contributing partners.

It’s also fitting that we host this event on that same day that Foreign Secretary Meade and I celebrated the 20th anniversary of NAFTA. And through two decades, the vast majority of North Americans have seen incredible benefits as we’ve lowered the barriers to trade, brought talent together and investments across the lines. We now trade about $1.2 trillion a year, compared to $77 billion with Brazil a year, and about $59 billion with India. So we massively, as North America, dwarf, and we haven’t paid enough attention, frankly, to building the longer-term future by creating this kind of relationship.

So I can tell you this: No matter where we’re from, every one of us shares the same basic aspiration – opportunity, security. And we all know that that better future is within reach if you have the chance to reach for the brass ring which comes from education. We are living in a world where countless countries, including this hemisphere, have vast populations under the age of 30 – 65 percent in some, 60 percent; 50 percent under the age of 21, 40 percent under the age of 18. And if those young people who are able to be wired and see what the rest of the world is getting and doing don’t have an opportunity to reach out and touch that, we’re all going to inherit the consequences of our lack of focus and inattention.

So it’s my honor now to introduce someone who has done so much in promoting these partnerships and this prosperity across our two continents, the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden. (Applause.)