For more than 70 years, U.S. government citizen exchange programs have invited future leaders from all parts of British society across the Atlantic to meet with their American counterparts. Politicians, journalists, opinion formers, civil servants, academics, union officials, artists, activists, business people and scores of others have all taken part in these journeys of discovery.
I believe these initiatives are crucial to a strong bilateral relationship. There is no substitute for a first-hand, ‘warts and all’ exchange experience in strengthening the foundation of trust between two nations. Exchanges give aspiring leaders a deeper understanding of America that stays with them for life. They get to see the U.S. close-up. They come to know the way our beliefs and values inform our choices, and how we pursue our common ideals of freedom and democracy.
In today’s tumultuous world, we need that kind of understanding more than ever. Moreover, I believe we have to find new ways to tap the expertise, experience and energy of exchange participants after they return. So I am particularly gratified to offer my congratulations on the launch in London of the John Adams Society – so called in honor of America’s first envoy to Britain and our second President. This U.S. exchange program alumni association brings together for the first time a truly diverse collection of influential citizens as one distinct voice – a voice with the stated mission of bringing “the United Kingdom and the United States of America closer” through cultural, scientific, educational, and economic activities.
I am sure that the John Adams Society will act also as a critical friend to the U.S. President Obama said that the relationship between our two countries “is a kinship of ideals.” In my view that bond comes with an obligation to speak to each other in the way family and friends do: openly, honestly, and candidly.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – herself a passionate supporter of exchange programs – has said that “Solving today’s foreign policy problems requires us to think both regionally and globally, to see the intersections and connections linking nations and regions, and to bring countries and people together to jointly address our concerns. Nothing can replace the power and impact of personal experience. That is why exchange programs have been a vital component of American public diplomacy, and why we are committed to sustaining and strengthening them.”
I am confident the John Adams Society will provide a welcome and productive home for building on these life-changing exchange experiences. I look forward to a busy schedule of activities that will strengthen the bonds between our two countries, based on our fundamental devotion to human dignity and democratic freedom.