Then-Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Global Talent Carol Z. Perez records remarks for Foreign Affairs Day, April 19. Photo by Isaac D. Pacheco
By Amanda McCarthy
Welcoming retirees and recognizing their service has been a time-honored tradition of the Department of State for more than five decades. Foreign Affairs Day, held annually on the first Friday of May, brings together women and men who have helped shape American diplomacy. It celebrates their achievements, honors their sacrifices, and keeps retirees abreast of current issues in foreign affairs. For the second straight year (following a hiatus in 2020), attendees were met with a full program, May 6. Broadcasted on the Department’s internal broadcasting channel, BNET, as well as the Department’s YouTube channel, Facebook page, and website, then-Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Global Talent Carol Z. Perez moderated the day’s events and provided opening remarks.
“We all enter public service for different reasons, but for most of us the underlying drive is a desire to make a difference and serve our country,” said Perez. “To the retirees joining us, your contributions are still felt today and live on in the hundreds of colleagues you’ve collectively mentored, guided, and inspired.”
Perez encouraged retirees to continue making an impact. She invited them to share their experiences as seasoned diplomats with others to help encourage a future generation of foreign affairs professionals. She also spoke of the importance of mentorship, urging retirees to continue connecting with colleagues and serving as mentors when needed.
The program continued with the annual awards ceremony, honoring three distinguished individuals. First, President of DACOR James Dandridge II presented the DACOR Foreign Service Cup to Ambassador Nancy Jo Powell. Her 37-year career included five ambassadorships (including serving as the first female U.S. ambassador to India), and a stint as the director general. Powell’s remarkable contributions to American diplomacy and her public service since retirement have embodied the accomplishments that the DACOR Foreign Service Cup is intended to celebrate.
“She modernized hiring and career development in the Foreign Service,” said Dandridge. “And she’s successfully met the challenge of staffing huge, critical missions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. Nancy championed advancement for those whom the Foreign Service had until recently marginalized, women and minorities. She continues to serve as a mentor and model for what successful [Foreign Service officers] and ambassadors should be.”
In Powell’s acceptance speech, she spoke about how she recently met with college students to discuss career opportunities in the Foreign Service. Most students wanted to know why she joined the Foreign Service in the first place. Powell replied that she joined the Foreign Service because she wanted to see the world, but the reason she stayed was for the service.
“I did the work in Kathmandu, Nepal. No telephone, no ATM, no email,” said Powell. “It was the first time that I understood the service part. It was one-on-one helping American citizens.”
Powell encouraged everyone in the Foreign Service, and especially those in the retirement community, to use the skills that they developed in the Foreign Service to benefit their communities. She showed gratitude for the mention of her work in recruiting and advancing women in the Foreign Service, but noted that she must acknowledge the courageous female trailblazers that came before her. In September 1977, when Powell arrived at her first post in Ottawa, many did not agree that women belonged in the Foreign Service.
“I like to believe that those of us who came [into the Foreign Service] in that vanguard of women, that we have served the country well,” said Powell. “We’ve served the Foreign Service and we’ve proven them wrong. And I think the efforts to expand the Foreign Service to look like America needs to continue.”
Foreign Affairs Day programming then returned to Perez, who presented the Director General’s Civil Service Cup to John Robinson. Robinson’s passion for service brought him to multiple agencies and organizations where he often encountered issues of equal opportunity, equal access, and labor rights—which would become a major theme throughout his federal career.
At the Department, Robinson served as the director of the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) from March 2008 to 2017, where he was the primary advisor to the secretary of state on equal employment opportunity issues, diversity and inclusion, and affirmative employment.
“John knew that the Office of Civil Rights would never succeed in its mission if its only function was one of enforcement,” said Perez, quoting a statement from one of Robinson’s longtime colleagues. “He ensured his staff conveyed the righteousness of their cause, that treating everyone with dignity and respect was not just the right thing to do, it was also the smart thing to do.”
Robinson thanked Perez for this honor during his acceptance and spoke of how he learned important lessons throughout his career at multiple agencies. Robinson stated how none of his previous roles brought him into a conflict zone, except for one. As the director of S/OCR, Robinson traveled to the embassy in Baghdad during a time when ISIS had reached within 100 miles around the Iraqi capital.
“I recognized the danger posed by heading into a war zone and people might have understandably wondered—especially my wife and children—why I needed to go to the embassy myself at this perilous moment…the reasons were very clear to me,” said Robinson. “First, I wouldn’t send any member of my staff to any place I wasn’t willing to go myself. And secondly, the values that we espouse must be upheld when nerves are strained the most. Leadership means setting an example, and the leaders at this Department know that better than most.”
Robinson then acknowledged his family and thanked his colleagues, including his S/OCR colleagues for their guidance and coaching. In concluding his speech, Robinson pointed out that the oath taken by all public servants reaffirms one’s commitment to a shared set of values.
“I salute you, and I thank you for the individual and collective ways that you help embody those values by advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion during my tenure at State and for continuing that work today.”
Perez then introduced and presented the Director General’s Foreign Service Cup to Ambassador Patrick Kennedy.
“Ambassador Kennedy has singularly focused on ensuring the Department empowers our people, so we can deliver for the American people,” said Perez.
Serving in Paris, Cairo, and in various domestic appointments for more than four decades, Kennedy played an instrumental role in some of the most challenging operations that the Department and the country undertook following September 11. In 2003, Kennedy helped to establish the U.S. presence in Iraq as chief of staff of the Coalition of Provisional Authority and Multinational Security Transition Command–Iraq, and in 2004, he helped transfer sovereignty to the new Iraqi government. He also served as deputy director of national intelligence for management in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence before returning to the Department as under secretary of state for management in November 2007—a position he served in for 10 years, under three different secretaries of state, and two different presidents.
“Diplomats are not given to using adjectives like ‘indispensable’ to describe their colleagues, but with Pat, it’s more than appropriate,” said Perez. “Three very different secretaries of state, Secretaries [Condoleezza] Rice, [Hillary] Clinton, and [John] Kerry knew that whatever the crisis, whatever the operational challenge, the management of the Department was in the most capable hands. More than that, they knew he cared.”
Kennedy humbly accepted, noting that he shared the award with an untold number of colleagues who enabled him to realize the accomplishments he is credited with. Kennedy also noted his surprise that in a half century, only two other management officers had ever been recipients of the Foreign Service cup, and that joining those past recipients was very special to him. Kennedy went on to list the many projects he was associated with during his tenure at the Department, which included establishing many domestic facilities, developing programs to help support the workforce, and furthering green energy and technology advancements.
“I am privileged to have been associated with all these efforts and many others,” said Kennedy. “But the credit is definitely not all mine. It goes to my deputies and to others—little known but also outstanding professionals…it was my honor to be associated with them.”
After the award ceremony, the program acknowledged Foreign Affairs Day sponsor organizations and included messages from Ambassador Eric Rubin, president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA); John Bradshaw, executive director of DACOR; and Paula S. Jakub, executive director of the Senior Living Foundation.
Perez then introduced Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman, who joined while on official travel in Gabon. Sherman shared an update on the current state of foreign affairs.
“We’re putting in the time to rebuild, strengthen, and grow our network of alliances,” said Sherman.
She went on to describe how the Department’s workforce is actively addressing challenges of this century, rallying the world to take on the climate crisis and build more clean energy, working to make sure the internet remains open and secure, addressing human rights issues, and more.
“We’re leading with our values, our belief in democracy, in freedom of expression, in a free and vibrant press, our commitment to universal human rights, our support for free enterprise and building shared economic prosperity, and our understanding that the best way to advance all those values, and in turn, to advance America’s interests around the world is by upholding and strengthening the rules-based international order that has made peace and prosperity around the world for more that seven decades,” said Sherman. “No matter how strong any one nation’s military may be, or how vibrant its economy, or how creative its people, no nation can solve the challenges we face today on its own. America’s alliances and partnerships are our greatest strength on the world stage.”
The annual AFSA memorial ceremony followed, with Rubin and Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Brian P. McKeon in Main State’s C Street lobby. The ceremony honors the achievements and sacrifices of the entire foreign affairs community, especially those who have given their lives in service to the country. Currently there are 351 names etched into the plaque displayed in the C Street lobby.
“Those inscribed here deserve our utmost respect and admiration,” said Rubin. “We count ourselves especially fortunate today to be adding no new names [in 2022] to the wall.”
Rubin announced the addition of a new memorial that will commemorate those who have lost their lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic—those who have contracted the virus while serving overseas. Rubin stated that death due to the virus, unfortunately, did not qualify for inscription on the traditional AFSA memorial plaques, therefore the new memorial will be constructed in the coming months to honor such individuals.
After a moment of silence and the National Anthem, McKeon provided closing remarks. He congratulated the day’s awardees—Powell, Robinson, and Kennedy—thanked sponsor organizations, and acknowledged how diplomacy has been no easy feat during a worldwide pandemic and with the current affairs in Ukraine.
“We do this work because it matters,” said McKeon. “Because we seek to serve our fellow citizens and in a mission larger than ourselves. It is work that requires sacrifice and commitment.”
McKeon mentioned the long hours, deadlines, and pressure that many foreign affairs professionals are met with—sometimes in difficult and dangerous circumstances—as well as the sacrifices made in order to serve the American people. He acknowledged that those on the AFSA memorial wall had made the ultimate sacrifice. He also applauded those that continue to give back since retiring, and encouraged the continuation of their engagement.
“Please stay engaged. You still have an important job, the most important job of every American citizen,” said McKeon. “We’ve been reminded that our experiment in self-government is not a birthright, but something every generation must protect and defend. Please continue sharing your stories, spreading the message that diplomacy matters, especially, for the greatest problems before us, and please keep mentoring and helping us recruit the next generation of diplomats. They need you, we need you.”
Amanda McCarthy is the multimedia editor at State Magazine.