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Address by Ambassador Anderson to the Washington Ireland Program Class of 2015

 Address by Ambassador Anderson for the Washington Ireland Program Class of 2015

It is always a special moment, at this point of summer, to celebrate the Washington Ireland Program and to convey our warmest wishes to this year’s participants.

The Program is now in its 21st year. Over 500 alumni are making their mark across all walks of Irish society, in all parts of our island and further afield. WIP is a wonderful programme, whose promise is being richly fulfilled.

I know that this year’s group of 30 students have had a summer they will never forget - broadening your horizons, making new friendships, challenging yourselves in every way. Our deep appreciation goes to the WIP sponsors and supporters; to all those who have offered internship opportunities; and most especially to the host families who have opened your homes and hearts with such great generosity of spirit.

In celebrating WIP tonight, and in greeting our program participants, I would like to take a moment to talk about some of the wider experiences of this summer.

I have always believed that the young people of Ireland are our greatest asset – your inquiring minds, adventurous spirits, and deep-down decency, represent our hope and our future.
Over the past six weeks, in circumstances sorrowful and joyful, that faith and confidence have been vindicated and fortified.

The six weeks began with the heartbreak of Berkeley, and are rounded out with tonight’s reception for the WIP participants. In the interim, my travels have brought me to Alaska and, in the past few days, to the opening of the Special Olympics in Los Angeles.

I want to share with you some of what I have experienced and witnessed during those weeks.

For all of us, the tragedy of the balcony collapse in Berkeley cast a deep shadow over the summer. I joined others in San Francisco in the immediate aftermath, and the sorrow was unspeakable. Six bright and beautiful lives so prematurely ended; seven young people having to deal with the challenge of rebuilding their futures.

Amidst the sadness, something that shone through – and that has been recognised so fulsomely by the families – was the solidarity of the friends and fellow J1s of the Berkeley victims. These young people showed their love for their lost and injured friends in countless different ways – so many acts of comfort and support and tenderness. They have proven themselves such steadfast friends: “genuine heroes” as they were described in the statement issued yesterday by four of the families.

I went to Alaska in the days after Berkeley, in particular to help celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Hope Irish Partnership. Hope is an organisation which provides services throughout Alaska to support people with disabilities in leading full and meaningful lives. Over the past twenty years, hundreds of young Irish people – mostly from the Institutes of Technology in Waterford and Tralee, but from other Institutes and Universities also – have spent periods working as volunteers in the Programme. Their impact has been enormous. The head of Hope has described “the joy and beauty of 20 years of selfless giving by 1400 young people from Ireland”.

“Joy” and “beauty” also characterised the past few days in Los Angeles. We felt so much pride in Team Ireland, so much respect and admiration for their achievements. Our 88 Irish athletes span all ages but the majority are young, close in age to the WIP participants here tonight. Their talent and tenacity, their grit and determination, make them role models for us all. And indeed the Special Olympics motto is one we might all adopt: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Separately, while in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to meet – and hear eloquent speeches from – young Irish law students participating in the annual
summer programme with the Irish American Bar Association.

Throughout these past weeks, I was reminded of the breadth and depth of connection between Ireland and America, and particularly of the linkages involving our young people. I was also reminded of how often, and how naturally, we operate on an all-island basis: the Washington Ireland Program of course, but also Team Ireland at the Special Olympics, and the legal training programme in California.

But above all, this mosaic of experiences has allowed me to witness the qualities of our young people. I cannot imagine an Ambassador of any country who could feel more proud of her or his young compatriots.

To our WIP participants I would say this: you are part of, and representatives of, a great generation. You have so much to contribute, such boundless potential. As our country heads into a period of renewal, we urgently need that contribution; we need your empathy and your energy, your vision and your moral compass.

It has been a summer of sorrow, but also a summer of grace. For our WIP students, I hope it will prove to have been a life-changing and life-enhancing summer. Above all, I hope it will have reinforced your determination to seize life’s opportunities – to go out and make a difference in our island and our world.

Again, to all who work so hard to make WIP the program it is, our appreciation and gratitude.

Address by Ambassador Anderson for the Washington Ireland Program Class of 2015