Platt inspires students to enter public service

Ambassador Nicholas Platt was America’s ambassador to China, Japan and the Philippines during his illustrious career. Last month, he gave his culminating lecture as the year’s Ambassador-in-Residence. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Platt
Ambassador Nicholas Platt was America’s ambassador to China, Japan and the Philippines during his illustrious career. Last month, he gave his culminating lecture as the year’s Ambassador-in-Residence.Photo courtesy of Nicholas Platt
Ambassador Nicholas Platt was America’s ambassador to China, Japan and the Philippines during his illustrious career. Last month, he gave his culminating lecture as the year’s Ambassador-in-Residence.
Photo courtesy of Nicholas Platt

Every year when studying abroad, junior year students become enamored with the foreign countries they encounter. However, in spite of their love of travel, very few consider the possibility of making a career out of it.

Similarly, many students are exposed to dozens of opportunities to pursue public service professions such as City Year, Teach For America, and other comparable programs. Through foreign service, an option not represented as often as its domestic counterparts, students have the ability to marry their globe-trotting desires with their activist passions.

U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Platt, Vassar’s first “Ambassador-in-Residence”, made students aware of the rewards of a career in foreign service­­­—part of which is being able to bring back roadmaps from those paths less traveled.

Platt, a former U.S. diplomat who was stationed in various locations on the eastern side of the world, including China, Japan, and the Philippines, spent several days at Vassar this past November.

His time on campus culminated with the History Department’s C. Mildred Thompson Lecture, a tradition with origins dating back to 1963, took place on Nov. 13.

Coincidentally, the first lecturer, Dr. Virginia Thompson Adloff ’24, was a specialist and author on topics related to Asia, which has resonance for Platt, whose lecture was titled “China: Then and Now.”

Platt reflected upon his experiences in China while serving under President Nixon during his historic 1972 visit to the previously tightly closed-off communist country, and offered an analysis of U.S.-China relations.

In an emailed statement, Professor of History Robert Brigham, who helped organize Platt’s visit, said, “[The talk attracted] an overflow crowd of nearly 300…the Ambassador shared ‘home movies’ from Nixon’s historic 1972 talk and insightful analysis on U.S.-Chinese relations.”

Stacy Bingham, Acting Director of the Career Development Office (CDO), wrote in an emailed statement, “Ambassador Platt (joined by his wife) gave an incredible, intimate talk to approximately 40 students in the Jade Parlor, covering all aspects of their life in the foreign service.”

At the talk, which the Career Development Office promoted, Bingham said Platt covered aspects of his experience ranging from the professional to the personal, offering students all of the advantages and disadvantages they must weigh when considering a possible career in this field.

He said, “Students learned about a variety of topics, from the Ambassador’s specific career path to diplomacy to the realities of foreign service life on a family.”

In addition to delivering the Thompson Lecture, his visit also included making presentations to several classes and giving a talk which the Career Development Office organized, aimed towards educating students who expressed interest in careers related to foreign service.

Such concerns, which are of special interest to those who are currently interested in International Studies and considering futures in foreign service in the State Department, were outlined by Ambassador Platt during his time at Vassar and complimented his comprehensive treatment of international issues.

Ambassador Platt served the State Department for 35 years, in offices such as Zambia, the Philippines and Pakistan.

As a young diplomat, Platt began studying Mandarin Chinese in the ’60s, despite China’s firmly-shut borders at the time, which put him in an important position when Chinese-American relations suddenly opened forty years ago.

According to Brigham, “The Ambassador was one of the leading U.S. officials to oversee the normalization of relations between the United States and China,” an experience which featured prominently in Ambassador Platt’s talk.

The 1972 visit resulted in the reopening of the People’s Republic of China to the United States after 25 years of political separation between the two countries. It then gave rise to images of Communist China reaching U.S. shores during the highly-televised eight days during which President Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon were in the country.

After his long service in the State Department, Ambassador Platt retired, and served as President of the Asia Society for 12 years.

Brigham found Platt’s experiences illuminating to his understanding of both the history of foreign relations and how the U.S. might seek to proceed.

He said, “The highlight of the week for me was Ambassador Platt’s visit to my two courses on U.S. foreign policy. He brilliantly described the normalization process between Beijing and Washington and the keys to a better relationship in the future.”

Brigham and others have come to refer to Platt as the “Ambassador-in-Residence.” Though this position is neither official, nor precedented, he found Platt to be more than worthy of the epithet.

He said,“This is not a formal program, but we thought the title [was] appropriate given Ambassador Platt’s willingness to spend the week meeting with various classes, students interested in careers in the Foreign Service, Departments and Program.”

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