Good afternoon, everybody! Thank you, Dr. Aáry-Tamás and Professor Szuromi for your excellent welcome remarks and words of inspiration to start this year’s RETURN conference. I would also like to thank Ms. Smith Lacey – Anna — for moderating today’s event. It is my great pleasure to be here again, and I thank the U.S. alumni community in Hungary for the kind invitation. This was one of the first groups to welcome me to Budapest and it has been wonderful getting to know so many of you. In fact, after a year here, I can recognize many more faces in the crowd today.
As you might remember, one of my first public appearances in Hungary as Ambassador of the United States took place exactly a year ago, at the 3rd RETURN Alumni Conference. This annual event definitely has a special significance for me. Not only because I think that the academic and professional exchanges between the United States and Hungary – represented here today by our alumni community – are crucially important in fostering mutual understanding between our countries, but also because it marks the anniversary of my time as U.S. Ambassador to Hungary and reminds me of the wonderful experiences I have had here over the past 12 months.
One of the highlights from my first year as Ambassador was the speech I gave at Corvinus University last October. As many of you may recall, I emphasized the broad scope of the engagement between our nations, the outstanding cooperation and collaboration in matters of security and defense, and the continued importance of building a stronger bridge between Hungary and the United States – one that will endure for generations.
The members of RETURN – together with all alumni of U.S. schools and academic and cultural exchange programs – are pillars in that bridge. Your professional experiences in the United States span an incredible variety of fields – from medicine to music, economics to English literature. You are experts who have been to the United States, who have experienced our culture, evaluated our best practices, and – as we see from so many of your success stories – brought those practices back with you to Hungary.
Because of your own diverse backgrounds and interests, you returned to Hungary with equally diverse new personal contacts, relationships, and impressions of the United States. This exposure to new people and ideas is the best foundation for any discussion and growth.
I know that your varied perspectives will influence the discussions today on the theme of this year’s conference “How To Make Change.” You represent an extremely talented – and perhaps most importantly, inquisitive – group. You wouldn’t have traveled abroad if you weren’t curious about what happens on the other side of the bridge – or in this case, the other side of the world. You truly have the potential to make a change, as proved by your many individual accomplishments.
Speaking of those accomplishments, today you will hear six success stories from outstanding members of the alumni community. They participated in various exchange programs and their expertise illustrates the incredible range of U.S.-Hungarian cooperation: from sustainable agriculture, to public and foreign policy, health, entrepreneurship and venture capital, children’s rights, law, and communications. You will hear about distinguished alumni, such as Dr. Marcell Szász, whose cancer research and treatment efforts following his exchange program have won worldwide accolades.
You will also hear examples of successful alumni initiatives, such as the “Meet the Scientist Program” that brings scientists to schools throughout Hungary; the American Corner speaker series that connects experts with interested audiences on many issues; and the Alumni SocioLab workshop that scrutinizes socially important questions related to Hungary.
And you’ll also hear about what the future holds for the U.S. alumni community, including plans for the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Fulbright Program and the European Network of American Alumni Associations conference that will be held in Budapest in November. And I hope that you’ll discover even more initiatives to share your knowledge and talents both locally and internationally. Your voices and ideas matter as we search for solutions to the problems affecting the global community.
Let me take this opportunity to mention one upcoming program in which we hope you might take a leading role. Over the coming months, the Embassy hopes to engage with alumni in discussions on the recent refugee and migrant crisis that affected Hungary and the whole of Europe in 2015, and that continues to be a source of debate.
As the world seeks overarching solutions to this crisis, there is a need for open dialogue on the common questions and concerns about the topic. To help facilitate the conversation in Hungary, the Embassy, through our Public Affairs Section, will organize six panel discussions to be held throughout the country. Representatives from the Government of Hungary will be invited to participate at each discussion. These programs will cover various aspects of migration, including historical perspectives, related health issues, security concerns, and questions of tolerance and integration. They will address the most common questions people have about the migration crisis to better inform the discussion.
The presentations will be open to the public and will take place in the spring. If you would like to contribute to this process, please join the program, whether as a volunteer organizer, a panelist, or as an audience member. My colleagues in the Public Affairs Section will be happy to provide you with more information about this or any other program. We are always ready to seek avenues on which to cooperate with our talented alumni members, so please let us know if you have any ideas for similar projects.
I know that many of you have already been active members of the U.S. alumni community and close contacts of the Embassy. I would like to say thank you for your continued interest and participation in alumni activities, and for your enthusiasm in maintaining this umbrella organization, RETURN, as well as your individual alumni organizations. I especially recognize the efforts of the RETURN board in organizing today’s conference and discussions. I encourage all of you to consider serving on the Board and helping to shape the future of the organization.
I am certain there are many new and innovative ways to organize and mobilize the amazing resources of this group. Your spirit of volunteerism and public service is exactly what is needed to make a change.
I hope to be involved in many more alumni activities in the coming year and look forward to witnessing as each of your change the world for the better. I wish you thoughtful and fruitful discussions today. Thank you.