Recently the Department of State hosted a Cherry Blossom Centennial event that highlighted the role of youth and women in foreign affairs and diplomacy. I was lucky enough to sit among the Cherry Blossom Princesses who represented all 50 states and even a few foreign embassies here in Washington, and the National Cherry Blossom Festival Goodwill Ambassadors. I was one of many young women gathered in the auditorium mulling questions such as: How can a young person with few resources, few connections, and no real experience be a catalyst for global change? Can society accept and actually appreciate a working mom? With so many senior positions held by men, is masculinity the requirement for professional success?
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell kicked-off the event with a strong message to the audience: old or young, be unafraid to achieve. He conveyed a personal understanding of gender equality by relating his own challenges around balancing work and family life. As the husband of one of the highest-ranking female U.S. Treasury officials in history and the father of three daughters, he offered proof that raising a family does not have to mean sacrificing one's professional development.
Ronan Farrow, the Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for Global Youth Issues, galvanized the young audience to act "now" instead of waiting on the future. He discussed specific instances of State Department youth engagement, including the establishment of Youth Councils in U.S. embassies and consulates across the world. When hearing that half of the world's population is comprised of people under 30 , it becomes obvious that youth have the collaborative potential to fuel real development and reforms.
Two prominent members of the Office of Global Women's Issues provided a female perspective on life as a State Department employee. Ann Kambara, Senior Public Affairs Advisor, used statistics to demonstrate how political and economic participation by women can increase prosperity and decrease violence globally. Jane Mosbacher Morris provided sound advice on work-life balance, discussing how she manages her State Department career in counterterrorism and her MBA studies, while still having a life outside of work.
East Asian and Pacific Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary James Zumwalt, who most recently served as the Deputy Chief of Mission in Tokyo, was the event moderator. He provided insight into the shared values between the United States and Japan, and encouraged us to stay involved in U.S.-Japan relations -- even urging us to become part of the Tomodachi ("Friend" in Japanese) generation. The TOMODACHI Initiative is named after Operation Tomodachi, the joint U.S.-Japan military humanitarian relief effort following last year's earthquake. Building upon this cooperation and spirit of friendship, the initiative supports educational and cultural exchanges between Japanese and American youth.
This event offered insight on the importance of youth and women empowerment, and moreover, motivated young people like myself to pursue our passions. Youth can work together to transform societies, countries, and the world; and women should proudly embrace their femininity. Leaving the event, I felt fearless and audacious, reassured by these speakers that it is never too late to follow my dreams.
Editor's Note: You can view a photo from the event on Flickr.