The American Academy of Achievement celebrated its 50th anniversary International Achievement Summit in Washington, D.C. from October 24 to 27, 2012. Approximately 100 young delegates from 30 nations gathered to learn from the experience of distinguished figures in politics and public service, the arts and letters, science and business. Many of this year’s delegates are deploying modern technology to revolutionize health care, education, journalism, government and international development. A number of them were selected by the U.S. Department of State as the most promising young social media innovators and technology entrepreneurs from around the world. Seventeen new honorees were inducted into the Academy, joining the delegates, returning honorees and special guests in a series of discussions held in some of the most significant locations of the capital city.
Members of the Academy attending the 2012 Summit included such distinguished public servants as: the Chief Justice of the United States, John Roberts, and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor; Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; Attorney General Eric Holder; CIA Director David Petraeus; former Secretary of State Colin Powell; former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott; Congressman Edward J. Markey; former NATO Commander Joseph Ralston; Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles; former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley; ACLU Director Anthony Romero and consumer crusader Ralph Nader.
The assembled Academy members included a number of honored scientists: the father of the World Wide Web, Sir Timothy Berners-Lee; Nobel Prize recipients Dr. Peter Agre, Dr. John Mather, Dr. Ferid Murad, Dr. Adam Riess and Dr. Roger Tsien; Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins; Director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci; Chief of Surgery at the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Steven Rosenberg; MIT President Emeritus Susan Hockfield; biomedical engineer Dr. Robert Langer and famed neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson; undersea explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle; paleoanthropologist Dr. Lee Berger; and economist Dr. Nouriel Roubini.
A host of Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and journalists joined their fellow Academy members at the Summit: Rick Atkinson, Louise Glück, Natasha Trethewey, Dana Priest and Neil Sheehan. The world of broadcast journalism was represented by Academy members Sam Donaldson and Chris Matthews, as well as Wolf Blitzer and Chris Wallace of CNN and Fox News, respectively.
Business leaders among the Academy members in attendance included financiers Ray Dalio and Jim Rogers; AOL co-founder Steve Case; Washington Post chairman Donald Graham; UnderArmour founder and CEO Kevin Plank; and David Rubenstein.
The Host Chairman of the 2012 Summit was Catherine B. Reynolds, Chairman and CEO of The Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation. The Summit was made possible by a generous grant from The Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation.
On the first evening of the Summit, honorees and delegates convened at the Top of the Hay, on the top floor of Washington’s elegant Hay-Adams Hotel, with its panoramic view of the White House, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. The view was all the more vivid as it was a miraculously warm, clear evening for Washington in October. Shortly after arriving, the delegates heard from Academy member Donald Graham, longtime Chairman of The Washington Post Company. Graham described the transformation in media technology that has taken place since he entered the newspaper business in the 1970s. He also recalled the role played by his newspaper in publishing the Pentagon Papers, investigating the Watergate burglary and subsequent cover-up, and in the major court rulings that followed, securing freedom of the press in the United States. Graham was followed by the Post’s managing editor, Marcus Brauchli, who enlarged on the impact of social media on news gathering and reporting.
Later in the evening, the assembled Academy members and delegates heard from journalist and author David Brooks. He discussed the necessity of learning to compensate for one’s weaknesses, illustrating his theme with anecdotes from the lives of Dwight Eisenhower, General George Marshall and the Catholic labor activist Dorothy Day. Brooks was followed at the lectern by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who recalled his earlier career in Congress and mourned the lost spirit of bipartisan cooperation that marked the House in that era. He decried the failure of the current Congress to place the national interest above partisan ones. The final speaker of the evening was General David Petraeus, Director of the CIA. Like the previous speakers, he emphasized the importance of subordinating self-interest to public duty, and praised the men and women of America’s intelligence services, whose efforts must remain forever unknown to the general public. Brooks, Panetta and General Petraeus were all inducted into the Academy on the first evening of the 2012 Summit.
The program continued the next morning at the Hay-Adams with an address by Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The following speaker, veteran broadcast journalist Chris Wallace, answered searching questions from the Academy’s delegates on the role of television news in the new media environment. Dr. Robert Langer examined another revolutionary technology, describing the work of his laboratory at MIT, the largest biochemistry research facility in the world.
In addition to the many Academy members and special guests who spoke during the Summit, a number of the Academy’s young delegates addressed the Summit, beginning with Ruth Barnett, a pioneer of social media in British journalism, and Chilean blogger Paloma Baytelman. Author and Academy member Rick Atkinson, winner of three Pulitzer Prizes, also spoke on Thursday morning. He is now completing the third volume of his “Liberation Trilogy,” recounting the Allied triumph over fascism in World War II. MicroStrategy founder and CEO Michael Saylor described a near future in which all transactions will be conducted with mobile devices, while cash, keys and other commonplace items will become obsolete. The last speaker of the morning was Richard M. Daley, who discussed his many achievements as Chicago’s longest-serving mayor, and the challenges facing the modern city.
Over lunch, the Summit attendees heard from delegate Josh Nesbit, founder of the nonprofit Medic Mobile, which uses low-cost mobile technology to facilitate health care delivery in underdeveloped countries. The Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, elaborated further on the impact of new technologies on medical research and health care.
Following lunch, Academy members and delegates traveled to the headquarters of the National Geographic Society, where they were met by the Society’s Explorer-in-Residence, Academy member Sylvia Earle. Dr. Earle made a short video presentation of her work exploring the ocean’s depths, and took questions from the Academy’s delegates. She was followed onstage by Greg Marshall, the inventor of “Crittercam.” Marshall showed a short video sample of the many films he has shot with this device mounted on wild animals, showing the world in motion from the animal’s point of view.
The paleoanthropologist Lee Berger gave a polished presentation of his discoveries, unearthing the remains of the human race’s most remote ancestors. He was followed by the award-winning nature photographer Joel Sartore, who gave a dazzling survey of his work. Both Dr. Berger and Joel Sartore were inducted into the Academy of Achievement by Dr. Earle. The session at the National Geographic Society closed with an address by one of the pioneers of the digital age, America Online founder Steve Case.
For the Thursday evening program, the Academy traveled to the Supreme Court of the United States, gathering in the historic courtroom where so many crucial cases of constitutional law have been decided. They were welcomed to the Court by Chief Justice John Roberts. An enthusiast of British history, Justice Roberts noted that the day’s date was the anniversary of two historic battles celebrated in works of literature, from which he drew a lesson for our times. At the Battle of Agincourt, memorialized by Shakespeare in Henry V, the outnumbered British exploited a new technology, the Welsh longbow, to overcome a numerically superior French force that lacked this weapon. In the Battle of Balaklava, described in Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade,” the British lost an entire unit in an archaic cavalry charge against modern Russian artillery. One tale demonstrated the wisdom of recognizing a new reality, the other the folly of ignoring it.
Chief Justice Roberts was followed by three of his associates, Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, and a distinguished brother jurist, Justice Morris Fish from the Supreme Court of Canada. The Justices gave a candid account of their work on the bench, and of the similarities and differences among the legal systems of the U.S., Canada and other nations. The Justices also addressed a number of questions from the Academy’s delegates. A particularly memorable exchange occurred when a delegate from Mexico, contemplating the possibility of reforming his own country’s constitution, asked what has made the U.S. Constitution so durable. Justice Kennedy immediately replied that it is the legitimacy conveyed in the document’s first three words, “We the People.” The assembled Academy members and delegates dined with the Justices at the Court. Justice Sotomayor’s colleagues, all Academy members, inducted her into the Academy, presenting her with the Academy’s Gold Medal. Justice Sotomayor spoke of the impact her upbringing had on her later success and stressed the role of character in achievement: “It’s not what you do,” she said, “it’s who you are.”
From the Supreme Court, the assembly traveled to the Lincoln Memorial, where they were met by Academy member Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s Hardball political discussion program. Matthews spoke from the steps of the memorial, with the illuminated statue of Abraham Lincoln for a backdrop. Drawing on his experience in the White House and on Capitol Hill, he praised the ideals embodied in the capital’s monuments, and in a spirited give-and-take with the Academy delegates, forcefully defended America’s role in the world. From the Lincoln Memorial, the delegates walked to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where Pulitzer Prize-winning author Neil Sheehan recalled his experience as a war correspondent in that conflict, and its significance for the United States and the world. He also recounted his role in disclosing the classified Pentagon Papers, and the impact of the Supreme Court decision that sanctioned their publication.
Friday morning’s program resumed at the Hay-Adams with an address by education pioneer Salman Khan, founder of the nonprofit online Khan Academy. Following a question-and-answer session with delegates, Khan was inducted into the Academy by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Dana Priest discussed her exploits as an investigative journalist with The Washington Post. The Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero, presented the challenges he faces preserving constitutional rights in the midst of a war on terrorism. Dr. Steven Rosenberg, Chief of Surgery at the National Cancer Institute, recounted the experiences that led to his pioneering studies of immunotherapy for cancer. Two more 2012 delegates spoke during the course of the morning: Ari Wallach described his innovative work as a media strategy consultant for public and private sector clients; Shaka Sisulu gave an engaging account of his work as the founder of the South African youth charity Cheesekids, complete with visual aids and a brisk survey of distinctive facets of South Africa’s dramatic history.
The Academy traveled to the Department of State for lunch in the elegant Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room, with its magnificent collection of Americana. The assembly was welcomed by Ann Stock, the Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. She spoke briefly of the sacrifices made by America’s foreign service officers, at its 265 embassies, consulates and other diplomatic posts around the world — a subject on the minds of many present following the assassination of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Libya.
The Academy’s midday program was moderated by veteran broadcast journalist Sam Donaldson. The speakers included three of the Academy’s 2012 delegates who have used information technology to advance the cause of freedom in their respective countries.
Dr. Khaled Elmufti, a technology entrepreneur from Libya, recounted his experience of the recent revolution in Libya. When the dictator Muammar Gaddafi shut down the nation’s cellular network to block rebel communications, Elmufti established an alternative wireless network that kept the lines of communication open for Libyans resisting the dictatorship. Bassem Bouguerra, a veteran of Silicon Valley, described his effort to deploy information and communications technology to assist the democratic transition in his native Tunisia. The Chinese blogger who writes under the pseudonym Michael Anti discussed his struggle to practice free speech over the Internet in China, in the face of government harassment and persecution.
Another of the Academy’s delegates spoke when the Academy returned to the Hay-Adams for the afternoon’s program. Patrick Meier discussed his work as a pioneer of crisis mapping technology with the nonprofit Ushahidi, and now with the Qatar Foundation’s Computing Research Institute. The program continued with a dual presentation by two Nobel Prize physicists, Dr. John Mather and Dr. Adam Riess. Mather and Riess explained their efforts to explore the past and future of the universe. The Academy enjoyed a special privilege Friday afternoon — a return visit with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who engaged in a wide-ranging discussion with the Academy’s delegates.
Friday evening, the Academy moved to the United States Capitol. In the Senate wing of the Capitol, the Academy heard from two distinguished former Senators, Max Cleland of Georgia and former majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi. Senator Cleland captured his audience immediately with a wise and witty account of the against-the-odds political career he pursued after losing one arm and both legs in Vietnam. Senator Lott shared the many lessons of his time in the Senate, and some he has learned since. Although they belong to different parties, Senators Cleland and Lott spoke of one another with notable warmth, and of the need for bipartisan cooperation in the halls of Congress.
Following a substantive question-and-answer session with the two senators, the entire assembly crossed from the Senate to the House side of the Capitol, passing through the dazzling dome of the rotunda and Statuary Hall for dinner in the House of Representatives’ Rayburn Room. On the House side, they were welcomed by Congressman Edward J. Markey, who spoke of the historic role of the House of Representatives as the “people’s house” — the seat of American democracy and a model for emerging democracies around the world.
After dinner, Representative Markey led the assembly onto the floor of the House of Representatives. With the Academy’s members and delegates seated on the benches normally occupied by members of Congress, Markey discussed the changes in telecommunications since he first came to Congress in 1977. He emphasized the positive role that well-crafted legislation can play, such as the bill he authored that freed unused bandwidth for innovation and competition. From among the seated Academy members, Markey introduced the father of the World Wide Web, Sir Timothy Berners-Lee. The two engaged the delegates in an exploration of the future of the World Wide Web, and the role of telecommunications in a democratic society. Sir Timothy Berners-Lee inducted Representative Markey into the Academy of Achievement, presenting him with the Academy’s Gold Medal.
The final day of the 2012 Summit began at the Hay-Adams, with a presentation by the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Renowned for his pioneering discoveries in the diagnosis and treatment of HIV-AIDS, Dr. Fauci related the work of his institute in combating diseases. The Academy heard from several distinguished practitioners of the life sciences on Saturday morning.
Nobel Prize recipient Roger Tsien elaborated on his groundbreaking work synthesizing fluorescent protein molecules, now widely used in cancer and Alzheimer’s research. Dr. Susan Hockfield, who recently stepped down after eight years as President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, considered her own work as a neuroscientist and educator.
During the Saturday morning session, two new members of the Academy shared their unique perspectives on the world economy. International investor Jim Rogers presented highlights of his travels around the world. His greatest achievement, he noted, was becoming a father for the first time at age 60. The economist Dr. Nouriel Roubini, who correctly predicted the global financial crisis of 2008, engaged the delegates in a conversation on the current state of the world economy. Delegate Jessica Colaço described her work promoting information and communications technology in East Africa through her Nairobi-based research facility iHub. The last speaker of the morning, Dr. Benjamin Carson, shared the values that guided him from an impoverished youth to a career as a brain surgeon famed for his life-saving feats of ingenuity and dexterity.
Over lunch at the Hay-Adams, the Academy heard from the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder. The nation’s top law enforcement officer, he outlined his role heading the Department of Justice, the world’s largest law office, responsible for enforcing the nation’s laws. He admitted the demands his commitment to service has placed on his personal life, and answered a number of questions from the Academy’s delegates concerning the many responsibilities of the Justice Department. David Rubenstein, a founder of private equity giant The Carlyle Group, discussed the roles of learning, work and philanthropy as the three stages of a fulfilling career.
Saturday afternoon’s program took the Academy to historic Ford’s Theatre, where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated nearly 150 years ago. Seated on the stage of the historic auditorium, the Academy members and delegates heard from consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who addressed the negative aspects of social media. While many of the Summit’s speakers see social media as a vital venue for organizing political action, Nader suggested that the new media disperse citizens’ involvements in an ever-expanding number of causes and organizations, reducing direct participation in any of them.
Another speaker of the afternoon was Ray Dalio, founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates. Dalio gave a straightforward description of the principles that guide his business decisions. He stressed the value of surrounding yourself with people who compensate for your own shortcomings. He emphasized the importance of understanding the chain of causation in historic events, and of recognizing recurring phenomena in markets, and in life. The recently appointed Poet Laureate of the United States, Natasha Trethewey, posed the question, “Why Poetry?” By way of an answer, she read her poem “Mexico,” in which a childhood memory links past, present and eternity, demonstrating the power of language to erase the barriers of time and space. The last speaker of the afternoon was the Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa. Responding to Trethewey’s query, he set himself the question, “Why Politics?” Mayor Villaraigosa defended the profession of politics, the hard choices that public service requires, and the necessity for leaders to look past the needs of partisan constituencies to pursue the greater public good.
The International Achievement Summit culminated in the formal Banquet of the Golden Plate, held in the elegant Willard Room of Washington’s historic Willard Hotel. The 2012 ceremony was conducted by broadcast journalist Wolf Blitzer.
After the presentation of the Academy’s Golden Plate Award to the Class of 2012, the Academy heard musical performances by two of its talented delegates, Christina Perri and Colbie Caillat.
Following dinner, General Colin Powell and his wife Alma took the stage to introduce an old friend of the Academy, the legendary singer Aretha Franklin. The “Queen of Soul” performed some of her most famous songs — “Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” and “Think” — and was joined onstage by the Powells and a host of Academy members and delegates for a stirring rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
The following day, as Hurricane Sandy approached Washington, the Academy’s delegates hurried to return to their far-flung homes. A new generation of leaders had gathered from around the world, meeting one another for the first time. They had interacted with the most accomplished practitioners in many walks of life, and had enjoyed the opportunity to correlate their wisdom across the lines of formal academic disciplines. Their interaction with Academy members, and with one another, sharing their own experiences of applying the latest technology in the service of humanity, will inform their service as they shape the world of the future.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds,
Over the past few weeks, I’ve come back to Cambridge and had a chance to unpack a bit of what happened when we all gathered In Washington, D.C. for this year’s Summit. And every time I think about it, I grow ever more thankful for your vision (and for you and your team’s incredible execution of it) to put together such a mix of honorees and delegates.
Primarily, it seems to me that you both embody a way of life that I first heard as a quotation. The architect and planner of the city of Chicago at the turn of the 20th century, Daniel Burnham, said, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.”
Without question, the Summit was, for me, an inflection point toward this motto.
When I arrived on Wednesday afternoon, just off the plane from pastoral Cambridge, I had absolutely no idea of what to expect. My mind was firmly focused on the minutiae of the appropriate order of chapters in my Ph.D. dissertation. But by the time Don Graham walked out to the podium at the Top of the Hay, I realized I would need to take my head out of the sand — and quick. Over the next few days, there were memorable experiences coming every five minutes, but two conversations that took place on one evening deserve particular attention.
My night at the U.S. Capitol was incredible both professionally and personally.
Over dinner, I happened to sit next to Alice Antheaume. When I got to my room and started flipping through the iPad book, her name immediately popped out. Her writing is central to my life’s work so far — how we will maintain the outcomes of quality journalism, even if the institutions that once did it fade away — and I knew I’d want to talk to her. What I didn’t know is how much a few hours of conversation would expand my understanding of an entirely different press system, and offer new opportunities for learning.
I discovered that France has a hugely active ecosystem of what they call “pure players” that are doing quality journalism based only on the Web, directly answering my question of how new institutions would be built. And as a result of that conversation, I’m already heading to SciencesPo in early December. Not only will there be a team of thinkers attending the meeting whose names I’ve read again and again, but have never before had the chance to actually talk with, I’ll be able to talk with them and get critiques on my work. Suddenly my research — the tool I hope will help modern liberal democracies cope with radical change — is getting way more scrutiny than I ever could have hoped for, and thus will be, I think, vastly better than I could have hoped just one month ago.
If meeting Alice and other delegates was incredibly fruitful, meeting the honorees was sublime and surreal. And the first story I told people about my time at the Summit was about our evening on the floor of the House of Representatives. After that conversation with Alice at dinner, I sat down in a seat three rows up from the dais just on the left side of the aisle. When Representative Markey told us the Inventor of the World Wide Web was there, my first reaction was disbelief. “Clearly, he doesn’t know who actually invented it — surely, he’s going to bring out someone who was involved in the early policy of the DARPANET.”
And then Sir Tim Berners-Lee stood up.
Suddenly, I was talking to a lifelong hero. A man who created the thing I use 18 hours a day; a thing that I have, in large part, devoted my life to using to improve the lives of others. And I wasn’t just talking to him — I was debating policy on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives with him, standing in front of an American flag that NASA brought back from the surface of the Moon. As Professor Berger taught us so much by way of a narrative, I hope my story of that single night helps explain the impact the Summit had on me.
Above all, I hope the Academy can continue to create such experiences for students far into the future — and if there is ever anything I can do to help with the execution of your vision, don’t hesitate to let me know.
Once again, thank you ever so much,
Dear Mrs. Reynolds,
I’ve been called many things in my life — but a man of few words is not one of them.
Imagine my shock, then, at what I found upon my return to New Haven following the 2012 International Achievement Summit in Washington: countless failed attempts to describe my experience as a student delegate to my family and friends, each beset by the inability to convey how profoundly impactful this experience has been, and will undoubtedly continue to be. Words, it appears, have failed me.
Words are similarly inadequate to express my gratitude for your generosity in affording my fellow delegates and me such an exhilarating opportunity. With three weeks’ time for reflection amid clinical commitments in Yale’s intensive care units and medical wards, however, I feel compelled to write something — anything — to try and convey my gratitude to you.
When my cherished mentor, former Asst. Surgeon General Rear Admiral Susan Blumenthal, nominated me to attend the Summit as her delegate, I thought I knew what to expect, drawing on friends’ tales of prior Summits and their remarkable encounters. As Admiral Blumenthal predicted, however, I had no idea what was coming. No one could have prepared me for such a compelling, insightful and deeply meaningful experience — five days that could only be described as awe-inspiring. What I expected was a trip to the Washington, D.C. region — my childhood home — like any other. What I received was nothing short of transformative.
As I write this letter, I aim to highlight those moments that were most profound. Trying to select one particular moment to meet that task, however, strikes me as foolish at best, for the Summit’s greatest gift is the cumulative sum of the experience — its richness and its scope.
The moments I cherish most continue to flash before me: debating health reform with Francis Collins and Ben Carson, with the caveat of having to defend opposite sides of the political spectrum; embracing Kathleen Matthews and Donald Graham, two of my childhood heroes and role models during my former life as a print journalist; sitting in Rep. John Conyers’s seat on the floor of the House of Representatives while witnessing a passionate debate about the role of government in technology innovation, one capped by Rep. Edward Markey’s powerful rhetoric on the fundamental responsibility of government to advance the public good; climbing the steps of the Lincoln Memorial under a sparkling night time sky to hear Chris Matthews’s powerful defense of government in a partisan era; leaning forward with rapt attention as Louise Glück and Natasha Trethewey’s eye-opening poetry was read aloud, their words battering my heart with each stanza; breaking bread and discussing the implications of American military budget cuts with Sec. Leon Panetta and Gen. David Petraeus; joyfully reuniting with Admiral Blumenthal in the chambers of the Senate before a guided tour by none other than Trent Lott; dancing on stage with Colin Powell and Antonio Villaraigosa as Aretha Franklin’s dulcet tones surrounded us; meeting Salman Khan and celebrating both a common surname and his phenomenal impact in educational delivery — I could continue like this for pages more. To call this collective experience astonishing would be an egregious understatement.
Most striking, however, was our time at the Supreme Court with Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Kennedy and Sotomayor. During dinner, Justice Sotomayor leaned forward to admit to my three companions and me that the non-partisan, collaborative friendships she shares with her ideologically-distinct co-justices were centered on “a mutual respect for each other’s dedication to the law and to public service” — a valuable insight for these bitterly partisan times. She paired those words with a directive to ensure that sentiment’s revival — for the nation’s future would depend on our generation’s ability to do just that. Having just peppered Justice Sotomayor about the intricacies of the Court’s recent decision on the Affordable Care Act and its societal implications in an admittedly partisan fashion, I initially found her challenge sobering — and daunting. Amid her affectionate hug at dinner’s end, however, she whispered that she knew we would be up to the task — after all, she noted, “that’s how you got here tonight — and that’s what you’re going to do.” I can think of no greater task ahead of us — and the challenge is one that I eagerly anticipate.
Indeed, the quality of the company we kept during our time together cannot be understated. As an American Muslim, a former journalist and a physician intending a career at the intersection of medicine, human rights and public policy, I suspected that the Summit’s focus on innovation and leadership in the Muslim world would provide valuable insight. I was nonetheless astonished to discover among my fellow delegates the diversity of experience in what Clayton Christensen would call “disruptive innovation,” writ large.
Whether the platform was social media, the Arab Spring, the courtroom or the battlefield, each brought a wealth of passion, a deep-seated sense of purpose and an incredible intellect to the proverbial — and literal — table. Through countless discussions, conversations, debates and laughing fits, we sought out each other’s counsel on issues as noble as First Amendment law and global health equity and as (refreshingly) normal as whether multiple rounds of dessert were contextually acceptable. Each night, I returned to my room in the wee hours of the morning, intellectually exhilarated and deeply humbled. Each morning, I awoke anew, ready to see what ideas — and adventures — would lie ahead. As I now work alongside other delegates on various joint collaborations, these discussions continue unabated. I already know that this discourse will shape my worldview for years to come — and I am elated to have found such incredible partners on the path toward a life spent in the service of humanity. I would be remiss if I did not mention the flawless work done by the Academy’s staff prior to, during or following the Summit. Their collective warmth, humor, professionalism and guidance provided the foundation upon which this phenomenal Summit was built. I intend to continue meaningful interaction with them — and with the Academy itself — in the months ahead, aiming to deepen and strengthen the bonds formed during these few days. After all, after an experience such as this, how could I not work to ensure a lifetime spent in such inspiring company?
Given the clarity the Summit has already provided as I prepare to emerge from residency training into the task of “getting my hands dirty” in advancing the human right to health, as Admiral Blumenthal described it, I can only hope to pay this immense debt forward — by whatever means possible. That debt is one that I owe to many, with Admiral Blumenthal foremost on that list. Since our first interaction years ago, Admiral Blumenthal’s model of a physician-leader in the public service, one committed to meaningful action across sectors, has motivated me to do better. Her steadfast belief in my potential — as exemplified by her nomination to this Summit — is incredibly humbling. I continue to look to her example as I work to ensure that this honor is ultimately deserved.
In closing, I must admit my incredulity as to why I, in the “first third of life” as delineated by David Rubenstein, have encountered such good fortune. It is my hope that this debt is one that I will repay in the decades ahead, via a combination of time, sweat, passion and sacrifice. I can think of no greater means by which to fulfill that debt — and to fulfill the faith that others have afforded me.
Above all, however, that debt is one I owe to both you and Mr. Reynolds. Thank you, sincerely, for your generosity, your vision and your unyielding commitment to a higher purpose.
I sincerely hope our paths will cross again.
With gratitude and respect,
Ali Khan, M.D., MPP
Dear Mrs. Reynolds,
Please receive my warm greetings from Nairobi, in the hope that this note finds you well.
I would like to express my profound gratitude for the opportunity to participate in the 50th Annual Academy of Achievement Summit last week. There are no words imaginable that can capture the invaluable experience, relationships and inspiration: perhaps befitting of these dark and dangerous times where the world has truly run out of its imagination.
After much reflection, I return to my work and colleagues with renewed strength, informed by a wealth of knowledge from different life journeys: poets, scientists, musicians, justices, techies, visionaries, venture capitalists and pilgrims of life.
The Academy was truly a celebration of life with one unique message: that the personal is indeed the political, humility, focus on the belief in making what may seem impossible possible, amid the noise and haste: to challenge the mind constructs that tell us we can’t.
I come from people that understand the values of inclusion, for we are dawned by the burden of history that is tied to the notion of exclusion from opportunity. And for this, I say thank you for the invitation. Perhaps best expressed in words that resonate with my culture: Asante sana! and as my Arab friend would say, Thank you, for you.
Please also express my appreciation for the guiding lights, the whisperers and ushers who pointed our way, even in those late nights. The quiet individuals working in the dark to make our stay comfortable. To all your team and staff, it was a joy to catch a glimpse where possible, an occasional smile and handshake.
In closing, I once met a lady from India who said she had a gift for me, that it cannot be touched, or carried, but can only be passed on from one person to another.
And this was the gift of new eyes.
Thank you for the gift of new eyes, to see the world differently and to imagine the endless of possibilities.
With the very best of wishes,
Dear Mrs. Reynolds,
I wanted to send you my sincere thanks for hosting the International Achievement Summit and for allowing me to be a part of it. As I arrived at the Summit on Saturday morning — fresh from a trial in Texas and not knowing what to expect — I was delighted to sit down to a breakfast with a table full of brilliant people, excited to share their ideas and hear mine. The energy was instantly apparent, and my fellow delegates so warm and welcoming, that I immediately felt a part of a community of individuals whose common thread was to try and make a positive contribution to the world.
As the day went on and I had a chance to explore that community — by listening to the poetry of Louise Glück, the scientific achievements of Roger Tsien, the life advice of David Rubenstein, the legal insights of Eric Holder, and many more — I not only learned a great deal, I also felt inspired. That is so important.
As we each toil away in trying to become the best at what we do (for me, a lawyer in constitutional law and energy law), there is a risk of becoming tunnel-visioned because of our intense focus. And it is then that events like the Summit are so crucial to the cross-pollination of ideas and to keeping us inspired and creative. I am determined to hang on to that aspiration and keep in touch with those whom I met, and I sincerely hope (and expect) that our paths will cross again.
One of my most memorable Summit moments was sitting down to lunch with Dr. John Mather. Over the course of our conversation, I told Dr. Mather I had begun college wanting to go into astrophysics but then made a turn towards the law. In response, Dr. Mather said that he started out wanting to become a lawyer and instead ended up in astrophysics. That moment reminded me of the vast amount that the people across the sciences and humanities have in common and how important it is for us to maintain a continued dialogue across fields and specialties.
I trust that the Academy will continue to further that dialogue year after year, and I thank you again for all that you do for the Summit and the Academy.
Dear Mrs. Reynolds,
I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the invitation to attend the International Achievement Summit and be part of this annual congregation of achievers. It was a privilege to be able to celebrate achievement, and I thank you for creating a memorable and life-changing experience.
Bringing some of the most accomplished individuals together, you have created a vast and effective network of innovators. Through the Summit I was able to exchange ideas, discuss current issues, dine with scientists and innovators, socialize with many individuals I consider pillars of technology, innovation and politics. I appreciate your philanthropic motivation, and I am inspired by it to be able to spread the ideas that inspired me throughout the Summit and act upon them, and to also give back to the community.
I consider the Summit a milestone to celebrate what Mr. Rubenstein referred to as the first third of our lives. The Summit has helped define my focus for the remaining two thirds, and as I always like to say, I am just getting started. The friendships you have enabled through this Summit will keep alive a vivid memory of those five eventful days in Washington, D.C.
I would also like to extend my gratitude to your team for their help and guidance throughout the Summit. Their attention to the smallest details and their utmost care enabled a smooth transition from various time zones. Thank you for what you do. Thank you for celebrating achievement and honoring young innovators. Thank you for creating an experience in the days many dream of for a lifetime. You have positively influenced my career, for that I am grateful, and I know ninety other troublemakers who share the same feeling.
Khaled A. Baqer