Clinton under secretary talks about diplomacy, careers
In the last year, Tara D. Sonenshine, under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, has traveled around the world to places ranging from Pakistan to China. Sonenshine, however, was not traveling for leisure purposes.
During her time abroad, the biggest challenge Sonenshine faced with her job was defining it, she said Tuesday during a Center for Public Diplomacy event at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
âMy challenge has been to explain what public diplomacy is to three different groups,â Sonenshine said.
She said the three groups are her colleagues, her fellow Americans and those overseas.
âFinally, Iâm in an audience where people understand my title,â she said.
The room was full of people â sitting on the ground, squashed together on benches and crowded in the back.
Aleksandra Ristovic, a graduate student studying public diplomacy, credited the high-turnout to the fact that Sonenshine is âsort of our [public diplomacy] goddess.â
âShe could have chosen any school to do this in,â Ristovic said.
After applauding the USC crowd for knowing what her job title meant, Sonenshine went on to discuss how she explains public diplomacy to those who did not know.
âWhen we speak to one another, engage to one another, etc., weâre engaging in public diplomacy,â she said.
Sonenshine said that the term applies to everything, ranging from a Russian athlete talking to a U.S. physical education expert to countering violent extremism.
She also emphasized the importance of each individual in the field.
âIf you donât take people into account when making policy, then youâre flying alone,â Sonenshine said.
After her discussion, Sonenshine opened the event to questions from the audience that ranged from the effect of social media to nuclear power in Iran.
In response to one question, Sonenshine said contradictions between freedom of expression and religion will always exist.
âI have accepted the puzzle pieces donât always fit together,â Sonenshine said.
On one of her trips, Sonenshine said she visited an all-girls school in Afghanistan. When taking questions from the students, Sonenshine described the USC students as âtameâ in comparison.
When asked about scientific diplomacy, she told a story about how when she was in China she was discussing breast cancer. Through diplomacy, according to Sonenshine, countries communicate scientific knowledge to help one another.
âBreast cancer doesnât care what religion you are or about your ideas,â she said. âIt invades your brain.â
Near the end of the talk, a member of the audience asked Sonenshine how she would define success.
âYou will not see it immediately, you might not see it in a week, and you might not see it in a year,â Sonenshine said. âItâs in [the] long-term where youâll see it.â
Sonenshine wasnât always involved in public diplomacy. In fact, she has experience in a wide variety of careers. She won 10 Emmy Awards for broadcast journalism and is the former vice president of the United States Institute of Peace.
Annenberg Dean Ernest James Wilson III described Sonenshine as an example of excellence across a variety of roles.
âHer 10 Emmys underscore her ability to move into different careers,â Wilson said. âShe is an example about flexibility you can have in your own life.â
Ultimately, Sonenshine advised students to follow their passion.
âCommunication is a tapestry that has lots of threads,â Sonenshine said. âSome threads come from working in Washington. Some threads come from traveling abroad and working in the field. Some come from the commercial world and some come from your own life experience.â
Jennifer Green, a graduate student studying public diplomacy, said she met Sonenshine in Washington, D.C. as part of a delegation of students and was really excited to have the opportunity to see the under secretary speak at USC.
âShe came at a really fascinating time in light of the video that recently came up from the middle east,â Green said.
The video, Innocence of Muslims, is an American-made anti-Islam film that incited violence in Libya, Egypt and Pakistan, among other countries, last month.
To demonstrate the impact of social media, Sonenshine shared powerful statistics with the audience.
âEvery second, one hour of video is uploaded to YouTube. Every two hours the total becomes nine months of video,â Sonenshine said. âEvery 10 days an entire century is uploaded.â