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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks at Dinner Honoring International Education
November 29, 2000, Washington, D.C.
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
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SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Thank you, Maria. That was a really wonderful introduction. I appreciate it very, very much. And Secretary Riley and my partner, Undersecretary Lieberman, David Walker, friends from the international education community, colleagues and honored guests, I am so truly pleased to have you here that the Department of State and it's terrific that you all were able to come.

I understand that when some of you received your invitations to this dinner you replied, "There must be some mistake; I'm only a teacher." A more apt response would have been, "It's about time; after all, I am a teacher." (Applause.) And the rest of your sentence would have been, if you want to influence the shape of the 21st century, you better start with me.

I say that simply not because, as Maria said, I am a former teacher myself. Nothing is more important to our communities, our country, our foreign policy or the world than education. Earlier this month, we celebrated the first International Education Week with a major outreach program here and overseas. And, as President Clinton directed last April, I have been working with Secretary Riley and other top officials to strengthen America's commitment to international education.

Richard Riley's own tremendous commitment to this cause has taken him from Sweden to Singapore, from China to Chile. In fact, it led him to coin the term "education diplomacy." Only he had the good grace, before using it, to ask my permission. (Laughter.)

So, for me, this collaboration has not been a duty but a labor of love. Because the subject that brings us together tonight has been one of the defining themes of my life, personally as well as professionally. For, as you probably are aware, I was not born in the United States and so I know what it's like to wonder about America from afar and to learn about it from the perspective of a foreigner. And I also know how easy it is for Americans to remain in the dark about the world beyond our shores. Those early experiences informed my university teaching and they have shaped by attitudes as Secretary of State.

Just this week, President Clinton hosted a White House conference on culture and diplomacy, and some of you attended that. Our discussions only reinforced my conviction that a successful US foreign policy demands a heightened understanding of foreign cultures. Without that, we would fail to interpret correctly what others say and fail to convey clearly to others what we intend. And we would find ourselves constantly surprised by problems to which we have no answers, because we wouldn't even know the right questions to ask.

The same is true of other countries dealing with one another and with United States. Too often, we see conflicts arise from a the movie Cool Hand Luke referred to as a failure to communicate. That is where you can make a profound difference, because international education helps Americans to truly understand the world in which we live and do business, and helps others to understand us as well.

I'm a strong supporter of our international education programs because, in my former life, I participated in them and I really have seen them work. These programs serve American interests and values and they help us to spread the good news of freedom and openness and human rights and the rule of law. They help Americans see through stereotypes about other countries and cultures, and they help foreigners understand America's unique and complex electoral system, so that one day we hope they can explain it to us. (Laughter and applause.)

Seriously, I'm very proud of our exchange program's long track record of bringing future leaders from around the world to our shores and giving talented young Americans invaluable experiences and insights abroad. Today, Fulbright alumni are building a democratic Bosnia, bridging the digital divide in West Africa, keeping Americans informed about developments in southern Europe, and fighting HIV/AIDS in Guatemala. Our Humphrey alumni are doing equally impressive things from managing immigration in Macedonia to advocating the rights of Filipino migrant workers, to serving all the Supreme Court of Brazil.

And we are not only reaching up to identify future leaders abroad, we are also reaching out. For example, more than 100 deaf students in Uzbekistan are being trained how to use the Internet under a Freedom Support Act program that may soon be expanded into neighboring countries.

These programs are incredible investments for America. They win friends and influence people. They are all paid for out of the roughly one penny on the federal dollar that is spent on international affairs. I hope that is ingrained in people's minds. Everybody thinks that the foreign affairs budget is huge; it is one penny out of every federal dollar. And I hope you agree that they deserve sustained support, no matter who occupies the White House or controls the Congress.

But as hard as this administration has worked to strengthen international education, I am keenly aware that NGOs, the private sector and the people-to-people ties can do far more than any government to build global understanding. And that's true of established programs such as Sister Cities, the Model UN, and high school student exchanges. It's true of new approaches, such as the Junior Girl Scout Global Awareness Badge, as well. And that, in a nutshell, is why I wanted to break bread with you this evening. Because it is your work, not ours, that is the bread and butter of our progress.

The British author, H. G. Wells, once wrote that history is a race between education and catastrophe. Well, helping people everywhere to value Democratic principles of tolerance and openness is a superb way to aid us all in winning that race. And so helping Americans to better understand the world in which we live, and know that our lives have never been more global and that our leadership has never been more necessary. And that is the cause to which I am immensely grateful for your service and it is a cause to which I will be dedicated not for just as long as I am in this office, but for as long as I am on earth. And I thank you very, very much for joining me tonight.

And now I am pleased to turn over the podium to David Walker. He is a Cardozo High School senior here in Washington, who has participated in his school's Model UN partnership with the State Department and the Model UN activities in Mexico City. David. (Applause.)

[End of Document]
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