Ambassador Jean Manes
Wednesday, March 8, 2017, 8:00 A.M., Crowne Plaza Hotel
Remarks by Ambassador Jean Manes at the 6th Edition of DigiGirlz
March 8, 2017
* This is a courtesy translation. Only the original Spanish version should be considered authoritative.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate International Women’s Day, than to start the morning with this group of innovative girls who are considering choosing careers in technology!
You, each of you, have the power, not only to change your country, but to go even further and help solve regional and global challenges. It is your generation that will search for solutions, and technology will play a primary role in that effort.
You are starting your journey – and like each one of you here – it will be your personal journey – unique, different.
Along the way, each of you will face obstacles and challenges, but I am here today to tell you that the trip is worth it, don’t doubt it: it is worth it. Do not doubt it, not even for a moment. The opportunity to contribute to your community, your country and even beyond, will be what motivates call that will drive you every day.
This is how I feel and have felt every day along the way on my own journey.
Let me tell you a little about my story. At 18, I went to college and I knew, I was convinced, that I wanted to study foreign policy. And honestly, I don’t have a rational explanation of why international relations became my passion.
It was just a feeling, an inner voice. Until that moment in my life I had not met anyone who had studied foreign policy or was a diplomat.
In fact, I grew up in a small family business – working with my parents, my brother and my sister in our store in a mall – working 15 hours a day and sleeping on the floor at the back of the store, as they have done and so many entrepreneurs do here in El Salvador.
But since I was a child I had a great passion for reading and I was attracted to the biographies about women who were exploring and conquering the world. In fact, many times they could simply find me sitting, to one side, absorbed by the reading of a good book, probably about the inspiring story of a woman.
Let me be very clear on this: I was not the smartest student – but I was, and I still think I am, the most dedicated; always studying, reading, learning. That persistence, that constant desire to excel made me a fighter.
There are also fundamental values that I learned from my parents: integrity, work capacity, equal treatment and the superior responsibility of fighting for justice and helping those in need.
These values are the pillars that are formed and reinforced every day of our lives. You are building those pillars right now. It is not something that happens overnight, when you suddenly wake up and decide to be an integral person who treats people with respect. That starts now. And for each of you, your trip will determine: what kind of person will you be? How do you treat your friends? And more importantly, how do you treat those with whom you disagree?
I remember learning from the beginning that all people are important. But it wasn’t until I started working that I began to notice that some people treated others differently.
If he was a boss or someone important, then the tone changed and they did it in a polite, sensitive way; but those same people treated badly those who had inferior positions in the hierarchy.
It is in those moments when a person’s character becomes clear. All people matter. All people deserve the same level of respect and good treatment – and it is never too early to learn that.
What are you doing right now to help build your character? What are you doing to develop the values and skills to help your community? What will you do to contribute to society?
At 20, I started my first internship in Washington, DC, and I decided to take advantage of all the opportunities. Before starting I worked up to three jobs almost simultaneously during the summer until I managed to save enough money to just survive in Washington, DC. At that time I shared a student residence with 10 roommates – many of whom are still my friends.
During the internship I worked long hours over 6 months without receiving any payment, but I always volunteered for all projects. I attended each conference on foreign policy issues, and best of all was getting lost walking in the city, enjoying it incessantly! I had to do everything – even being in charge of the photocopy machine – the tasks that nobody wants to do in an office, those are the ones that touch the intern … right ?
But that permanent search for opportunities, finally made the most experienced officials value me and began to offer me much more interesting additional tasks and opened the doors to new conferences to attend. I am mentioning this because, in my experience, the most important thing about actually pursuing your dreams is that it doesn’t come as a gift, you earn it by placing all your energy and passion in it, and I assure you that others will notice. All the effort I had to make when I was the age you are today, made the appointment as Ambassador of the United States in El Salvador a very special moment.
Imagine everything that went through my mind, what I felt in my heart, when I had to enter the same courtroom where I had been before 26 years ago when I was an intern at the Washington DC Capitol. Back then I sat in the last row, listening to the foreign policy debates of those who were designated as ambassadors and I was nothing more than a fly on the wall. I returned to that courtroom to sit in the front row to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It had been 26 years, and that fly on the wall had flown, grown and was now sitting in front of the Senators, presenting my qualifications to be confirmed as the United States Ambassador to El Salvador.
Therefore, I assure you that what you do today counts, matters, and doing it well is worth it. Values, work ethic, how you treat people, everything is part of who you are, who you will be.
You are starting your journey, and let me tell you, it will be amazing. Each of you is a unique and incredible girl, and I have no doubt that you will be extraordinary women who will change your communities, that will contribute to your country and to humanity.
There is no reason to wait. Decide now – be promoters of change. Be women who do things with passion. Be women who make a difference. For some time, it seemed that my dream was truly over. But, persistence, integrity, and staying true to who you are as a person – those are the things that matter.
Sometimes the road did not follow the direction that I had proposed and I had to take some detours and I came to feel that I lost sight of my dream, my goal. Know also that your path to success will not be a straight line.
During my career, there were many jobs, I did not get. Many people told me that I was not good enough, or that I was not aggressive enough, or that I was too young. But, in many ways, those detours were the most enriching. Those tests are what have made me relentless. Those skeptics were the ones who pushed me to find the way, and to reaffirm who I am.
It’s your journey and nobody else’s, never forget it.
And on International Women’s Day we should also thank those women in our lives who have helped us. It may be the teacher that encouraged you to study technology. It could be your mother or your sister.