Thanks. I’m delighted to be here this afternoon. You are totally and completely awesome. Congratulations on all of you on your successful participation in the Kennedy-Lugar YES program.
Thank you, Senator Lugar, for hosting this event—cookies and drinks to follow—and the strong bi-partisan support you have supplied in Congress to make this program a reality. Thank you also, Senator Leahy, for your amazing words. I have to say, as I sat here and listened to everything you said, I realized this this program truly does represent our path to the future. All of you will help us get there. And Senator Leahy and Senator Lugar: we could not have done it without you.
These two Senators have been leaders in our nation’s relations with other countries over the years. They have inspired us all with their knowledge, their passion, and their unwavering commitment to promoting such relationships – not only between governments, but between the citizens of the United States and their counterparts around the world. Senator Lugar and Senator Leahy also know the value that comes from direct experience of other countries and cultures, and from providing young people – and our future leaders – with such opportunities. The Kennedy-Lugar YES program would not exist and you would not be here today were it not for their support and active interest.
We also want to acknowledge the invaluable contribution of the late Senator Kennedy and his efforts to ensure the creation of this program and its continued existence. That support is echoed in remarks made by Secretary Clinton when she addressed this group yesterday, highlighting that youth exchange programs are key to building understanding and peace among people from around the world.
I am pleased to say, as you’ve already heard, I had the privilege of meeting some of you when I traveled to Honolulu last October. One of the things I enjoy most about this program is being able to meet and talk with you at different stages of your exchange year. In fact, at this reception last year I met two students from Pakistan who invited me to come visit them someday. Well, I took them up on their invitation. Two months after I was here, I was in Karachi, and we all got together and had a really great discussion. My next trip out there will be later this summer, so hopefully I’ll see you out there.
With the support of Senators Kennedy, Lugar and Leahy, this program has grown from 13 to 35 countries; and from 163 students in 2003 to 2004 to nearly 1,000 students for the 2010-2011 academic year – with students placed in every state and the District of Columbia. The Senators’ support has also included funding for alumni activities around the world, and the launch of the Kennedy-Lugar YES Abroad program, which gives young Americans the chance to travel to certain YES countries and live with host families just like each of you has done here.
Of course, the success of the YES program is due in large part to the generous host families, communities and American high schools that open their homes and classrooms to international exchange students each year. And we really want to thank you all of you for your participation. This program would not be possible without you. We hope that you stay connected with your host family, school, and the friends you made. And remember, you have transformed their lives as well.
I would also like to recognize the partnership of AYUSA International and its consortium partners in making the Kennedy-Lugar YES program such a success.
Your YES experience does not end when you board the plane to go home. We challenge you to take what you have learned and the skills you have gained to become active YES alumni and to commit yourselves to making your home countries stronger and better places to live.
Last year I also had the opportunity to go to Lebanon. They were an extraordinary group. And they kept together and built an alumni network together. And they have been pioneering new community projects all throughout their countries. So I encourage you all to stay connected. All sorts of community projects have happened. Some of the graduates from this program have been involved in mountain clean-ups, visiting orphans, teaching English, organizing blood drives, and many other activities. We’d also like you to give presentations about the United States to your friends, family, and neighbors, as you did during International Education Week to U.S. friends, family, and neighbors. We want to continue to hear from you and learn about achievements, and we want to engage with you frequently in the years to come. Your program has ended, but I believe our relationship has just begun.
We will include you in the varied programs and activities carried out by our embassies in your countries. And we are reaching out to our ambassadors to ask them to invite you to events at their embassies so you can share the experience you had here with our embassies and with other people in your countries.
And we also look forward to hearing from you. We want to know your thoughts, your questions, and your ideas: How can we make this program better? What are we doing right and what are we doing wrong? Your thoughts about the issues of the day. We will take all that information and we will all work together, not only to find solutions to some of the problems we face – all of you can help us do that – but also to seize the opportunity that surrounds us everywhere.
You know your own country, and you now know the United States. You are the perfect citizen ambassadors to help strengthen ties between the people of our nations in the future. Be active leaders in your community and continue working to build bridges of understanding. That is the strongest statement you can make to your community, and the best way to thank Senators Kennedy, Lugar and Leahy and your U.S. host families and communities. Thank you.