Monday, February 13, 2023
Vanakkam. Ayubowan. As Salaam Alaikum. Honorable President of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Youth Forum members from Jaffna, Kandy, Matara, and Colombo, American Corner Coordinators, my embassy colleagues, everybody, good morning.
Honorable President Wickremesinghe, welcome back to the U.S. Embassy and welcome to the American Center. Youth Forum members, welcome to your Leadership Summit.
Over the next few days, you will be challenged to understand more about yourself, learn more about your fellow Youth Forum members, and be asked to look ahead and decide what programs you want to develop as leaders within the American Corner communities that you represent. It is so great to be here with all of you!
Wherever you are from in Sri Lanka, we know that your generation wants a prosperous and democratic country to call home. A Sri Lanka where you will have plenty of opportunities for higher education, equal chances at an invigorating and exciting career, and an integrated, peaceful community that reflects the beauty of Sri Lanka’s people and diverse cultural heritage. I want that too! Just this past week, Honorable President Wickremesinghe highlighted the reforms and measures that will be implemented to pull Sri Lanka out of the current economic crisis and move the country to improved financial stability and reconciliation. Mr. President, you called on Sri Lankans to unite and move forward democratically to support the recovery of the nation. We support the desires of the Sri Lankan people to move their country forward. Mr. President, in the last 75 years of our bilateral relationship, the United States has been a proud partner with Sri Lanka in our collective efforts to build a better world. Just as you highlighted in your remarks the voices of Sri Lankan youth, all of you the young people, who wrote about their dreams for Sri Lanka, today we have a room full of young leaders who have great ideas for contributing to Sri Lanka’s future. These young people represent the full diversity of Sri Lanka, and we are so proud to support them in their leadership journey. So, for all of you here today, please know that your voice matters and your dedication and commitment are the foundation for your success in building an inclusive world around you.
And it does start with “you.” How you approach your neighbor, your friends, your professors, your parents, aunties, uncles, cousins. Not only when you agree, but also when you disagree. How do you respond to your community’s needs, how do you celebrate and share each other’s wins, and how do you show up even when you don’t get your way all the time? Being a leader takes courage. Courage to find and be true to your own path. The American Spaces and the Youth Forums are resources for you to strengthen your leadership skills, and I hope by the end of the week you’ll leave the Leadership Summit with a great sense of purpose and confidence.
Believe it or not, I was once a shy student myself. My family immigrated to the United States from Korea when I was five years old. I felt really out of place. My turning point was when I was 14 years old. I decided to enter a contest, a speechwriting contest to get a chance to speak at my middle school graduation ceremony. I wrote my speech based on Whitney Houston’s song “Greatest Love of All.” Some of you may know that song. It says:
I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be
Because I wanted the adults to listen to my generation and understand that we had the ability to make a difference in the world. I won that speech contest and presented at my graduation. That was an early win that helped me move along my own leadership journey!
Becoming a leader, you know, IS a journey, with lots of ups and downs. Through this summit, and through the Youth Forum, we’re just trying to give you the tools that you need to design your own road map, your own future. I wish that I could guarantee you smooth sailing, but the truth is that you will sometimes face adversity, or harder challenges in life, but when you have a good foundation of knowledge, a firm support system, and maintain integrity, curiosity, and develop a purpose, you are certain to find success as a leader. I encourage you to take this week to learn from our presenters and from one another and leave here ready to support each other and pursue your dreams.
Because that is what American Spaces like this American Center and the American Corners around Sri Lanka are all about: our dreams. In our 75th year of bilateral relations with Sri Lanka, now also celebrating its 75th year of independence, the U.S. has always provided a space for young leaders to convene and dream. Our American Spaces are designed for this. Freedom of expression is celebrated, information is accessible and free, and freedom to assemble is supported. And now, thanks to each of you, our American Spaces are known for the Youth Forums, where young adults strengthen their inclusive leadership skills and create solutions to meet the needs of your communities.
Thank you for coming to Colombo. Thank you for committing your time to the Youth Forum. And now, it’s my honor to invite the Honorable President Wickremesinghe to give his remarks.