Reflections on the Humphrey Program

John Sedlins, Chief, Humphrey Fellowships and Institutional Linkages Branch, Department of State

JohnSedlinsThirty-five years ago, President Jimmy Carter announced the creation of a program to honor then-Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and his lifelong commitment to human rights, international cooperation and public service. In 1978, President Carter said that this State Department-sponsored program would promote democracy, social justice and lasting cooperation with the developing world. To that end, the program was originally named the Hubert H. Humphrey North-South Fellowship Program. It has always been an important part of the Fulbright Program. In 1991 the program name was changed to the current Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program to reflect the extended vision of the program.

Twenty-seven fellows from 24 countries came to 10 different host institutions in that first class in 1979. In some ways they were a lot like you. They were accomplished professionals, committed to public service, leaders, change agents. But they were different too. They didn’t have the benefit of a cohort of fellows interested in a common field of study (the 27 fellows were scattered with no campus hosting more than four fellows!). And they were overwhelmingly male.

Today, fellows are hosted in cohorts of professionals with common field of study interests. There is much greater gender balance than in the past; indeed the majority of this year’s ASU Humphrey cohort is female.

A similar evolution explains how, in 2010, Arizona State University became a Humphrey host university. Increasing numbers of journalists and communications specialists applied to be Humphrey Fellows, and the program needed to change to accommodate the growing demand for this important field of study. ASU successfully competed for the opportunity to host you, just as you competed with peers from around the world to earn a Humphrey Fellowship.

Just as the program evolves in response to new challenges and opportunities, I’m sure Dr. Bill and Kristi have encouraged you to be flexible, to adapt to change and ultimately, to foster change—not only in your local communities, but globally as well.

Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, says it is her “sincere hope that each one of you will take your experience as a Humphrey Fellow and translate it into building a brighter future for your country and the world.”

I have wonderful memories of meeting each of you during my visit to ASU in September. Sitting in on the individual interviews with some of you, hearing the excellent “Must See Monday” presentations of Hina, Derya and Javaria and participating in your weekly Humphrey Seminar were particularly memorable.

As your Humphrey Fellowship year comes to an end, I hope you realize that you are a fellow for one year, but an alumna or alumnus for life! So how will you use this experience? What each Humphrey alumna or alumnus does to make the world a better place is as individual as each of you. We regularly hear that Humphrey Fellows are among the most active of all Department of State-sponsored exchange program alumni, and we encourage you to maintain that positive and forward-looking tradition. “There is power in numbers, and power in the partnerships and networks that you have developed while you were here,” says Assistant Secretary Ryan.

In his State of the Union Address in January 1978, President Carter said, “From time to time, our nation is blessed by the presence of men and women who bear the mark of greatness, who help us see a better vision of what we can become. Hubert Humphrey was such a man.” Thirty-five years on, these words still hold true. Through the actions of Humphrey Fellows — past, present and future — the commitment to human rights, public service and leadership exemplified by Vice President Humphrey lives on. You are an important part of that living and ever-evolving legacy.

As Vice President Humphrey often said, “Instead of thinking every task is beyond our means, let us measure the greatness of our capacity – instead of worrying about the future, let us labor to create it.”

Congratulations, Fernando, Hina, Ivana, Maja, Wahida, Rhonda, Steven, Derya, Issa and Javaria!

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