Ambassador Jean Manes
Tuesday, November 21, 2017, 1:00 P.M., CCSA-IENS
Remarks by Ambassador Jean Manes at the AMITY Graduation
November 21, 2017
* This is a courtesy translation. Only the original Spanish version should be considered authoritative.
Good afternoon to all of you, and thank you for the opportunity to share this moment with you and your families.
This week we will celebrate Thanksgiving, and I think it is appropriate to first acknowledge everyone who helped you all to get here – your families, your teachers, the administrators of your universities, new colleagues and friends in the United States, and others.
I hope you think of them at this time, because I know that this experience that you have had in the AMITY program, will change your lives.
You may already notice the changes, but if not, you will soon see that you are different people – stronger, more capable, more independent, with greater leadership. And your families, your communities, and even your country will thank you for this.
I would like to start with a little story that some of my colleagues from the Cultural Center here may have already heard, but I think it illustrates very well the doors that the English language can open.
Gac Filipaj is an Albanian from the former Yugoslav Republic of Montenegro, and who in 1992 fled his home country, which had become a war zone. He came to the United States with ambitious dreams. But a series of challenges, including a lack of English skills, left him in a job as a janitor, cleaning floors and emptying trash bins at Columbia University in New York City. He did that exhausting work for more than two decades, working a shift from 2:30 in the afternoon to 11:00 at night, sending remittances back home to his family.
A few years ago, Gac learned that Columbia University offered free college courses to all employees, including the custodial staff. But before he could start other courses he had to learn English.
So, he studied English while still working full time, and after seven years, he was finally able to enroll in one of the Columbia programs. He took one or two classes every semester, studying regularly past midnight.
In 2012, at age 52, and after 12 years of study, he graduated with honors from one of the most prestigious universities in the United States. And it all started because he made the choice, in remarkably humble and difficult circumstances, to study English. For seven long years. A decision that according to Gac, changed his life.
You yourselves are evidence of the opportunities that English provides, it’s the reason why you will receive your diplomas today.
But this is not the end of your path. We support you because we saw seeds of leadership in you, we saw the potential to impact the lives of others. This is the first step for you to provide similar opportunities to your future students.
Because just as English opens new doors for you, it will also open them for your students. It will give them opportunities to work, to understand and communicate with the world, to innovate, to see the world with new eyes. There are scientific studies that have shown that learning a new language makes students more creative and with greater problem solving abilities.
Take this moment to celebrate, but also to think about what you are going to do now. Remember that you have taken only the first step. Now, you have to keep walking, because learning is a lifelong process.
We have sent 138 young Salvadorans to the United States on internships or student programs through the Salvadoran American Scholarship program. All of them are people with a future full of potential, and now you belong to this family of alumni. I invite you to join the Salvadoran Alumni Association. I do not doubt that you will find others that just like you want to create a better future.
I also thank our partners who accompany us today: Gerardo Barrios University, UNICAES, UTEC, Universidad de Oriente, IENS, American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Airlines, for their unconditional support without which this program would not be possible.
To conclude my words, I want to return to those of Gac Filipaj. He said, “I am not blind, I look in the mirror and see myself. Although God has not given me a nice appearance, He has given me a head, he has given me a heart, and I can become better.”
And if you leave with just one message this day let it be this: every day is an opportunity to keep improving. Every day is an opportunity to keep moving forward. Every day is an opportunity to change your realities, that of your families, your communities, and that of your country.
And we believe in you.
Congratulations to all, and many thanks.