I was trying to work my way through the ever-expanding tide of new messages in my inbox and saw an email from the director of the Center for the Study of Global Change, Hilary Kahn, simply titled “You have been nominated.”
The first line of the email said that I might have the chance to meet privately with Secretary of State John Kerry when he arrived on campus.
I was shocked into incomprehension. I could barely fathom having the opportunity to meet with the man at the heart of the Iran Nuclear Deal and the restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba.
After a week of deliberations, massive coordination and hard work on the part of the wonderful team of people at the School of Global and International Studies, nine other students — all of whom were almost intimidatingly brilliant — and I were selected to meet with Secretary Kerry.
The significance of this had yet to hit me as I made my way to IU Auditorium to hear the Secretary’s speech that Thursday (Oct. 15). From the fifth row of the auditorium, I watched John Kerry walk out on stage. His commanding stature drew every eye of the crowd, and when he spoke, every ear was attentive. Yet this speech — in itself a once in a lifetime opportunity — was not the end of my day.
The other students and I hurried to the new Global and International Studies Building, where we waited anxiously to meet with the Secretary in the courtyard. Part of me was still sure this was not actually happening. All that ended though, when the incredibly tall, charming, relaxed, and all around attention-grabbing Secretary walked out the door, walked over, and sat down right next to me. Regulation of breathing was a necessity at this point. He had a warm smile as he eagerly waited for us to pose him questions regarding world politics and international relations.
Secretary Kerry, who engages with the world’s most powerful people on these topics every day, seemed interested and excited to engage with students about topics ranging from West African electoral processes to Pakistani relations. When it finally came to me to pose my question, I prayed that I would not make an utter fool of myself. I asked how states can help form and foster cross-cultural amity or at least begin to dispel deep-seated cultural animosity at the national level, with specific regard to the East Asian states of China and Korea with Japan. He cited numerous efforts already underway to foster dialogue, which he cited as a very critical component of easing tensions. He said that providing platforms for communication and the maintenance of dialogue can go a long way in fostering better relations.
At this point of the meeting, after all of the questions had been answered thoughtfully, we had clearly gone slightly over our allotted time and the Secretary’s team reminded him that they needed to head back to Washington. After posing for a group picture, we watched him walk out of the courtyard, left with the impression of his grand presence.
That day will always live in my memory; on that day, we students got to engage with one of the most influential people in the world, a great man.