Humphrey Fellows leave with new tools and many memories

Humphrey Fellows 20_21

At least one Maxwell School Hubert H. Humphrey fellow closed her Syracuse University chapter with good-natured relief at navigating logistical challenges of the program, truncated because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Failure was not an option,” Piyabelan Bouyo of Togo said during the Humphrey year-end celebration.

Others praised professors, leadership lessons, host families and opportunities to learn with and from each other. “At the end of the day it is all about people, people that will be in our hearts, in our minds and are the ones who make the memories,” said Débora Teixeira of Brazil.

Syracuse’s 2020-21 Humphrey Fellows, Maxwell’s 12th cohort, built relationships over six months at Maxwell, where they engaged in academic study, professional development and cultural exchange. The midcareer professionals hail from Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico, Montenegro, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, Tanzania and Togo.

The fellows completed “an impressive journey in very uncertain times,” said Margaret Lane, Humphrey Fellowship Program director and Executive Education assistant director.

She praised the fellows for mirroring the personal and political courage and optimism of the late Senator and Vice President Humphrey, in whose honor the program was created in 1978. “You, like Hubert Humphrey, have taught us that people from all nations have more in common than we have differences and you have inspired us with your commitment to expanding international understanding, education, cooperation and development to ensure our mutual goal of a more just, equitable and peaceful world,” she said.

Catherine Gerard, associate director of Executive Education and Maxwell professor of practice who teaches the Humphrey leadership course, spoke briefly about leadership and American values. “We hope as you leave here and think about implementing change that we’ve given you just a few tools and concepts to add to your toolkit to make you more effective as a leader,” she said.

She noted that the international visitors witnessed an unprecedented attack on American democracy when supporters of the former president stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the October 2020 election. “I hope what you’ve learned is the fact that democracy is a fragile thing,” Gerard said. “And you have to fight for it.”

Here, she continued, “We talk about [the problems]. We try to address them. We try to be better over time. … That’s the story of America and the story of leadership, which is to make those changes to try to make things better.”

The fellowship program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. government and administered by the Institute of International Education. Maxwell’s fellows are among the year’s approximately 127 scholars from 81 countries. Syracuse University is one of 13 campuses across the country to host Humphrey Fellows. Approximately 135 fellows from 72 countries have called the Maxwell School and Syracuse University home during their fellowship year since 2009.

The 2021-22 cohort will arrive Aug. 3 for a 10-month fellowship at Maxwell.

The personal and global challenges of the pandemic and growing racial and partisan tension underscore the need for Humphrey fellows’ talent and commitment, said Temitope Aladesanmi, a 2015-16 Humphrey fellow from Nigeria.

“The world therefore needs a new class of leaders,” he said, “men and women who are able to commit themselves to social changes that reduce hatred and build a just society not only based on laws and norms, but also in love and equity. To me, this is the core and essence of leadership.”

Maxwell’s newest Humphrey alumni are “eager to employ skills and knowledge thus far acquired to help a sick world,” Aladesanmi said. “I do not have any doubt that this cohort will go ahead and champion positive changes in their various communities.”