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U.S. diplomat Leonard visits Comm Studies


U.S. Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard speaks to Communication Studies students in faculty member Geoffrey Parish's class February 23 as he looks on. (Photo by Elliot Friar '16)

U.S. Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard discussed the ins and outs of being a diplomat with public diplomacy students on February 23 during a visit to a class taught by Communication Studies faculty member Geoffrey Parish.

Leonard, who most recently served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Mali, explained to students the many juggled responsibilities of public diplomats, including in a crisis environment.

“You’re the President’s personal representative in this country; you’re in charge with running this mission; and you’ve got some really good ideas because you know this place better than anyone else currently in the United States government,” Leonard said. “You are the one who drives with your knowledge on the ground the immediate choices that you have to make.”

While influencing policy and making decisions on behalf of the United States is one diplomatic function, Leonard says media outreach plays a major role in our modern, media-saturated world.

“Part of it is outreach to domestic media—here’s what the United States thinks and why… You would also provide interviews with international media to help them understand what is going on there.”

As diplomats juggle these responsibilities and utilize their resources to benefit U.S. international interests and interests of the host country, Leonard does outline limitations that even money and power can have.

“All the money and all the power in the world actually doesn’t get you all that much, because…there’s a big problem with absorptive capacity,” she said.

Students also learned of the seemingly unlimited power of peaceful and constructive voices of the people. Leonard became emotional as she referenced the time she quoted Benjamin Franklin in a fourth of July speech in Mali.

“They said [to Benjamin Franklin], ‘Well, what kind of country have you helped to create in launching this new entity?’ And he said, ‘A republic, if you can keep it.’ And it was a call to remind people that when things aren’t going the way that you like, that when you see something that is inappropriate, that you need to respond peacefully and constructively, not violently and destructively…to preserve values in your society that deserve to be preserved like the willingness to have a consensual solution to differences.”

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