Pickering and Rangel Fellowship Programs Mark Milestones
In October, the U.S. Department of State held a celebration commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship Program and the 10th anniversary of the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship Program. The commemoration, which included representatives from the Woodrow Wilson School, featured Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Director General Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
Both fellowship programs, funded by the Department of State, are designed to attract top-tier students who are interested in pursuing a Foreign Service career in the U.S. Department of State. The Pickering Fellowship Programs, administered by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, offer fellowship opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students. The Rangel Program, administered by Howard University, offers fellowships for graduate students and a Summer Enrichment Program for undergraduate students.
My cousins and I often say that we stand on the shoulders of the giants in my family that came before. . . .our great-grandparents, grandparents, uncles and aunts who labored and endured in the cotton fields of Oklahoma and Texas to make it possible for our generation to take advantage of opportunities today. History is ever part of our present, for it is only my generation that did not attend segregated, colored schools or labor on inequitable sharecropping farms – my father and his siblings did. And with a heart of awe, gratefulness and humility, I proudly carry my roots within me and try to thank my elders as often as possible for the hard-won gifts they so earnestly gave.On October 25, I was present as Secretary Clinton led the State Department’s celebration of the 20th and 10th anniversaries, respectively, of the Pickering and Rangel fellowships. As a Pickering fellow, attending that celebration engendered within me those very same humbled yet proud feelings for the State Department forebears. While I see my family frequently at holidays and special events throughout the year, it is rare in gatherings of my Foreign Service ‘family’ to have present so many giants of diplomacy who struggled and labored to swing wide the doors of the Foreign Service and make it a more inclusive institution. Honored and gathered were individuals – Perkins, Davis, Hope, Pickering – who told me I could do and be anything, and then fulfilled that promise by taking me from a small town in the Midwest and setting me on the path to higher education, diplomacy, and the world. Those individuals are an integral part of my life story – my history shaping my present and future. Unexpectedly I found myself on the brink of tears as I looked around the room and saw the history and present of not only myself— but entire generations of young people in the Foreign Service – converging all in one place. Awe, humility, gratefulness.In particular, the Secretary honored two of my own personal heroes that day: Ambassador Edward Perkins and Dr. Richard Hope. When I was a high school senior in Norman, Oklahoma, and Ambassador Perkins was the ambassador-in-residence at the University of Oklahoma, I had the opportunity to speak with him about his time in apartheid South Africa. Conversations with him about his visits to Mandela on Robben Island first planted the seed of desire to devote my life to public service. Fifteen years later, I can still clearly hear his voice on that day as he spoke of the symbolic value of taking small personal steps on behalf of his government to effect change for the good. At the same time, Dr. Hope’s drive, vision and direction, helped me and others turn that inspiration into a reality. His ever steady leadership turned the far-flung dreams of hundreds into attainable aspirations. And in the crowds looking on was John Templeton, whose support enabled me – the granddaughter of unschooled sharecroppers – to enter the hallways of the Ivy leagues. Again, I felt awe, humility, and gratefulness.I find it difficult to accurately express the depth of my thanks for those who came before in creating and supporting the Pickering Fellowship. How does one adequately thank a group of people who are so intimately responsible for the direction and opportunities of one’s life? Along with my family, the shoulders of those State Department honorees gathered that day, they are the foundation upon which my dreams are built and sustained. All I can do now is thank them by remembering Dr. Hope’s message from that October ceremony: with opportunity comes responsibility; to those who much has been given, much is expected.When my generation of Pickering fellows considers with thanks and awe the opportunities and experiences that life has afforded us, we must increasingly look forward to how we will now uphold the spirit of sacrifice that brought us here. We must honor the giants who came before not only by re-committing ourselves every day by our actions of public service, but also by committing ourselves to ensuring the door of opportunity remains open to those who come after us. As my grandmother would say, ‘we must keep on keepin’ on.’ Although we toil in vastly contrasting eras and locales than she did, the principles forever remain the same: work with grit and determination, be vigilant, watch out for sharp bolls, sing in the heat of the day, and keep working even when your hands are sore and scarred because you know your efforts are making life better for those around you. They may not have known it then, but in the blistering Oklahoma sun with 15 foot long cotton sacks strapped to their shoulders, my grandparents inch-by-inch and moment-by-moment led our family to Harvard and Princeton, to be doctors, nurses, teachers, accountants, and….diplomats. They gave me roots. The subsequent giants in my life, Perkins, Davis, Hope, Pickering, Templeton, worked in diverse fields for a different type of harvest, but a harvest nonetheless. They gave me wings. I am here because they paved the way for me, brick by brick, making inroads and thoroughfares where once stood rocky mountains and raging rivers. I pondered my bounty that cool October day…with awe…with humility….with gratefulness. I vowed in that to serve diligently and with sacrifice, to honor and uphold these principles meticulously demonstrated to me by everyday heroes and giants of men, in essence, to ‘keep on keepin’ on.’