Richard T. McCormack (U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States, 1985-1989)
This speech was originally presented at Yale Law School on November 3, 2014.
When Greg Fleming, my highly respected friend and former boss at Bank of America/ML, asked me to say a few words to you about careers and ethics, I felt deeply honored. All of us are relay runners, and some of you in this room will soon be asked to pick up the baton from my generation and carry on the race.
Greg asked me to say a few words about some of the lessons of my own career that may be relevant to you, offer some thoughts about ethics and the powerful value of good mentors, and finally outline some of the many public policy problems that you may face when you leave this school and begin your careers.
THE UNPREDICTABLE EVENTS THAT SHAPE CAREERS
When I graduated from Georgetown, I passed the foreign service exam, with the intention of a career in the State Department. But that summer, I decided to spend a year or two abroad to develop some language skills and enrolled in the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, where the classes were multilingual. A senior professor encouraged me to enter the PhD program, which I did, and graduated three years later.
When I returned to the U.S., I applied for a job in Congress to learn how our Congress works. I was asked by the House Republican Conference to help run the summer intern program and work on several public policy issues, including Vietnam. We also helped fix Washington’s poorly organized Project Headstart. These efforts drew the attention of the senior people in the Republican leadership, and I was advised to consider a career in the political system rather than the career service. A senior Ambassador reinforced this advice.
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