(Editor’s Note: This blog is written by Public Affairs intern Rebecca Seawell, who joined the Marshall Center in July.)
This weekend I had the opportunity to travel about an hour and a half away to a Distinguished Alumni conference sponsored by the Marshall Center. Alumni from 21 nations, including ministers, ambassadors, and other high-level representatives, gathered to discuss the NATO’s New Strategic Plan.
After participants arrived, everyone had the opportunity to enjoy a dinner and a scene-setting speech by Joseph McMillan, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, who outlined the topic of discussion for the next day’s events.
But other pressing matters were at hand – more specifically, the most watched sporting event of the year. “I realize I only have 29 minutes and 20 seconds until the World Cup kick-off,” McMillan joked. And although serious discussion still arose, participants gathered together to cheer on their respective teams in the hotel’s lounge later that evening.
Though there was some time for fun and games, alumni had a busy day ahead of them. Their schedule consisted of three discussion panels, followed by closing remarks by the center’s director, Dr. John Rose. The panels created an opportunity for representatives from different countries — many of whom had differing viewpoint — to formally discuss an important topic.
Informally, alumni connected with each other during coffee breaks. And although one southern European participant may have disagreed with a Baltic alumnus about what NATO’s main focus should be, they may have discovered that they had other things in common, such as cheering for Spain the night before.
During the closing remarks, one participant said he appreciates Marshall Center conferences because the events give participants a stronger feeling of identity as Marshall Center alumni.
And while dialogue is important, I discovered – and alumni rediscovered – the significance of building networks through the Marshall Center.