The Embassy of the United States of America celebrated the 244th Anniversary of Independence with a reception yesterday held in honor of students in the 2020-21 cohort of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study program (YES). Following is the text of U.S. Ambassador Dorothy C. Shea’s remarks.
“Good evening, everyone. Her Excellency Ghada Shreem, joining us virtually representing His Excellency President Michel Aoun; Mr. Ali Hamdan, virtually representing the President of the Chamber of Deputies; Her Excellency Shreem, also virtually representing His Excellency the President of the Council of Ministers Hassan Diab; other distinguished guests; and friends:
I would like to begin my remarks today by addressing our guests of honor, the 2020-2021 Youth Exchange and Study—or YES—program participants. We are proud to have you joining us from all over Lebanon. And we are delighted to celebrate this special event with you. Welcome!
The past year has been extremely difficult for everyone, and we share in the disappointment that we know you all feel because the global pandemic made it impossible for you to travel to the United States. But I don’t want to focus on that disappointment.
Instead, I want to congratulate you for your adaptability, maturity, and motivation. Because of COVID-19, I guess we all learned to embrace the virtual world; as YES students, you did that and more – figuring out how to glean enriching experiences out of less-than-optimal circumstances. And you did this amid real hardships, such as your country’s spiraling economic crisis and the horrific blast at the Port of Beirut. In doing so, you exhibited the very qualities that led us to select you as “ambassadors” of Lebanon.
I am confident that YES was not your one-and-only chance to travel to the United States. I imagine that YES is just the first step in your journey. I look forward to seeing your names on lists of applicants for the many other programs we offer, be it UGRAD, Fulbright, Techgirls, Between the Lines, or the Humphrey program, to name just a few.
For the record, YES is probably my favorite exchange program. Let’s not tell the other alumni, though.
On a serious note, the reason why I care so much about YES is because of my personal connection to the late Senator Richard Lugar, one of the namesakes of this program. I had the distinct honor of working for Senator Lugar on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I learned a great deal about diplomacy and foreign policy from this great statesman. And I consider you all to be a part of his legacy.
Senator Lugar’s commitment to democracy and education spurred him to invest in the next generation of leaders through this program. He once said, “There are no shortcuts to victory. We must commit ourselves to the slow, painstaking work of foreign policy day by day, and year by year.”
He didn’t just speak these words; he lived them – throughout his distinguished career.
As I ponder his words, I would add that there are also no shortcuts to genuine democracy. It is hard work. Democracy has to be strong enough to withstand challenges. That is the beauty of the “checks and balances” in the U.S. political system.
When Americans celebrate our independence, we reflect on the heritage of our founding documents, which define the key principles of our democracy. Our Constitution lays out our core values and beliefs, as well as our aspirations. In this respect, we are a work in progress. We have been, and we continue to evolve in our effort to form “a more perfect union,” and we still have a long way to go. And in this, perhaps, our best trait is our capacity for self-criticism.
I often encourage my Lebanese colleagues to try to adopt that spirit of self-criticism. Because if we don’t recognize flaws in and around us, how can we hope to correct them?
So, let us acknowledge that, without any shortcuts to democracy, much work remains for all of us, both here in Lebanon and in the United States. Back home, for example, we are still searching for ways to realize the equality and equity that are laid out in our Declaration of Independence.
Here in Lebanon, as we approach the sad anniversary of the port blast, we join you in calling for accountability and closure, first and foremost for the victims, but more broadly for everyone who wants to turn the page on the old way of doing business. We also join you in looking forward to next year’s elections – in some ways the ultimate form of accountability to the public. May the year ahead see responsible steps forward to lead Lebanon out of the multiple crises it is confronting, and toward the prosperity its people deserve and the potential that this country represents.
So let’s take on this challenge together. The government and people of the United States has made clear our commitment to the people of Lebanon. And I now look to you to make your own commitment. I encourage you to find ways to be the “ambassadors” and leaders that we know you are. Take steps to advance what is right. This is the spirit that we celebrate on our Independence Day. Where there is a will, there is a way. And remember, we are in this together.”