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Ambassador Young on the Call to Serve

Every year for the past nine

years, the American For-

eign Service Association

has partnered with Ameri-

can University’s School of

International Service and the

School of Professional and

Extended Studies to host the

annual Caroline and Ambas-

sador Charles Adair Memo-

rial Lecture.

Made possible through

the support of the Adair

family, the lecture’s purpose

is to elevate the profile of

diplomacy and development,

particularly among a younger

cohort who may be con-

sidering joining the Foreign


This year’s lecturer,

Ambassador (ret.) Johnny

Young, drew a crowd of more

than 250 people for his Sept.

3 talk, “My Call to Service,

Improbable Success and

Some Lessons Learned Along

the Way.” The event was held

at A.U.’s Kay Spiritual Life

Center in Washington, D.C.

Young’s career spanned

from 1967 to 2005 and

included postings in Mada-

gascar, Guinea, Kenya, Qatar,

Barbados, Jordan, the Neth-

erlands and Washington, D.C.

His ambassadorships were to

Sierra Leone, Togo, Bahrain

and Slovenia.

In opening, the ambassa-

dor admitted that his humble

beginnings growing up in a

poverty-stricken region of

the Jim Crow South did not

make him a likely candidate

for someday becoming one

of the president’s highest-

ranking envoys abroad. His

story, however, is an example

of how perseverance, good

humor and, on occasion, luck

can lead to unexpected and

remarkable experiences.

According to Young, his

“conversion” to interna-

tional service came out of

a trip to Lebanon, where he

represented his local YMCA

chapter at a joint YM-YWCA

conference. The thrill of tast-

ing unfamiliar foods, encoun-

tering foreign customs and

forging unforgettable friend-

ships led him to take and

pass the FS exam.

The 40-year FS veteran

emphasized that, at seem-

ingly every step, his path was

shaped by mentors—such

as then-Ambassador to

Qatar Robert Paganelli and

the late Ambassador Mary

Ryan—who took him under

their wings and opened the

doors, at times through force,

of professional opportunity.

Their examples helped him

understand the importance

of nurturing future Foreign

Service generations, which

he endeavored to do through-

out his career.

Young credited his suc-

cess to his people skills

and personal philosophy of

leadership, the foundations

of which are rooted in his

faith: “My strength was in my

ability to work for, with and

through people. I have tried

to create the kind of environ-

ment so that people who

work with me and for me will

want me to lead them.”

When asked what his

advice would be to students

who would seek to follow in

his footsteps, he simply said:

“Don’t give up.”

In retirement, Young

continues to serve others. In

2006, he became the execu-

tive director of the Migra-

tion and Refugee Services

Division of the United States

Conference of Catholic Bish-

ops, where he worked until

this past February. He is now

studying to become a Teach-

ing English to Speakers of

Other Languages instructor.

To see the video of

Young’s lecture, visit www.


—Maria C. Livingston,

Associate Editor

During the Q&A, Ambassador (ret.) Johnny Young offers his refusal to

implement orders fromWashington to push Slovenia to join the North Atlantic

Treaty Organization (a move Ljubljana ultimately pursued on its own) as an

example of knowing when “no action is the best action.”

Audience members listen intently as Amb.Young recounts his experience as

one of the first African-Americans to join the Foreign Service.