Honorable Thomas Countryman Describes the Beauty of Public Service and Diplomacy

In an effort to inform Hotchkiss students about foreign service professions, every year, different individuals come to speak about the importance of diplomacy and its applications. As a part of the Ambassador Speaker Series, the honorable Thomas Countryman came to Hotchkiss on Wednesday, February 19, an event organized by Mr. David Thompson, Director of International Programs. The American Academy of Diplomacy partnered with the school to educate students about diplomacy, which resulted in the formation of the Ambassador Speaker Series.
The Ambassador Speaker Series was started in 2009 by Phil Pillsbury ’53, P ’89, ’91 GP ’20, ’22, and has been continued by Amb. Robert Beecroft ’58. They started the series in hopes of inspiring current Hotchkiss students to take part in public service. Mr. Countryman graduated summa cum laude from Washington University in St. Louis with a degree in economics and political science and later studied at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
On Wednesday, Mr. Countryman spoke about the role nuclear arms play in world politics and the resulting effects on the world’s perception of America. As the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Arms Control Association (ACA), Mr. Countryman fulfilled his duty regarding the analysis of national security issues. The ACA also advised branches of government in preventing the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. For his laudable work, he received the Presidential Meritorious Service Award.
Mr. Countryman is considered a role model for many, as he has dedicated 35 years of his life to the State Department. In 2017, he retired as both the Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security, and as Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation, positions which he had held since 2011. Mr. Thompson said, “I think for students to have a chance to talk with someone who has served in this way and have given up themselves to something larger than themselves is really powerful.”
Mr. Countryman was able to attend two different sections of an International Relations course taught by Mr. Michael Fitzgerald, instructor in history, and an intercultural communications class that Mr. Abdoulaye Fall, Instructor in French, and Mr. Thompson teach. Thompson said, “[Mr. Countryman] really loved the classes. He was very impressed by the range of classes that we offer. And he was really interested in the questions students asked of him…questions that came from a very high level of thought on the issues.”
Many, including Mr. Thompson, believe that it is important to have guests like Mr. Countryman come and visit the school. Mr. Thompson said, “To have the chance to talk with someone who thought about these big problems that you read about in a textbook or discuss in class or has lived in countries you have only seen on a map, who has had to work with people on really important things like nuclear weapons in different languages and cultures…really is a wonderful opportunity and it makes the issues seem more real.”
Hotchkiss alumni have had a history of dedication to foreign service. Alums have been Ambassadors to China, worked under Secretaries of State, and acted in many other positions that have demonstrated high levels of diplomacy. Micheal Zhang ’21 said, “The experience was valuable to me because it taught me an important lesson about true civic duty: Countryman decided to remain in his position in the face of adversity (he had considered resigning) for the sake of his fellow Americans.”
Next year, the guest speaker will be Maureen E. Quinn, who served as the United States Ambassador to Qatar from 2001 to 2004. She teaches Middle Eastern politics at New York University and Seton Hall University. Mr. Thompson said, “It certainly fulfills our mission statement as a school in trying to prepare people who are engaged citizens of the world and thinking about empathy. There are a lot of elements of our mission statement that show up in the work that somebody like he does.”