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A Conversation with Ambassador Harriet L. Elam-Thomas

February 19, 2020

Ambassador Harriet L. Elam-Thomas, former US Ambassador to Senegal
Eliot Cohen, Dean of Johns Hopkins SAIS

Ambassador Harriet L. Elam-Thomas, who currently directs a new Diplomacy Program at the University of Central Florida joined the school for an in-depth discussion with Dean Eliot A. Cohen regarding her long and distinguished career as an ambassador, which took her to places such as Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, and France. 
The Ambassador began the discussion by speaking on her upbringing in Boston in the late 50s, early 60s, and the influence her brothers had in her life, instilling in her the importance of academic achievement. She then shared insights on how to navigate tough relationships as an Ambassador. She stressed that foreign officers need to be prepared for the job and should communicate in the language of the place they are serving. Additionally, she encouraged the audience to listen to others with empathy and without prejudgment.
The audience also had an opportunity to ask questions regarding recommendations for the younger generation of diplomats and opportunities for U.S. foreign policy. The Ambassador emphasized that young foreign officers should understand both the positive and negative aspects that come with the job and know that their oath is to the Constitution, not a particular individual, and as such they should work to improve America’s image abroad. Furthermore, she stated that in order to change the perception of the United States abroad it is necessary to learn more about others’ cultures and understand them deeply.

Dean Eliot Cohen spoke with Ambassador Elam-Thomas about her career as a diplomat.