It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces at the White House Fellows Foundation and Association (WHFFA) conference in October 2018. More than 200 people turned out to celebrate and honor our 50th anniversary class of 1968-69, and our Vietnam War vets. We also recognized our conference featured artist, Gerald Sheffield, an artist-soldier whose personal experiences serving in the US Army are reflected in his work.
As vice president of the WHFFA, and now president-elect, I had the privilege of serving as conference chair. Our theme was Character, Responsibility and Community: Creating Our Common Future. We spent the weekend taking a look back, considering our current state, and envisioning ways to create a future filled with promise.
We were guided and inspired by the words of our founder John W. Gardner, who said,
“One exemplary act may affect one life, or even millions of lives. All those who set standards for themselves, who strengthen the bonds of community, who do their work creditably and accept individual responsibility, are building the common future.”
On Wednesday, October 24th (the day before the conference), more than 50 White House Fellows (WHF) visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial “The Wall” for a wreath-laying ceremony to pay our respects to the fallen. A Marine Corps team from the Military District of Washington sang the National Anthem, and then played “Taps”. This was a moving ceremony and part of our emphasis in 2018 on remembering the 50th Anniversary of 1968.
The conference featured an all-star roster of speakers. Notable among them were US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Virginia Governor Dr. Ralph Northam; Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams, the Deputy Surgeon General, and Jim and Deborah Fallows who discussed their recent book “Our Towns: A 100,000 Mile Journey into the Heart of America”, to name a few. On Saturday, October 27, 2018, we visited the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico Virginia. We heard from nine of our Vietnam Veterans as part of a panel on “The Experience and Legacy of the Vietnam War”.
When we think back half a century to that pivotal year 1968, we see many similarities to our current state. Our nation was divided, much like it is today. Americans were unhappy with the lack of civil discourse, just as they are today. There was upheaval in our politics, just as there is today.
That’s why it’s so important that our leaders work to unite us, not pull us apart. We don’t want to return to the tumult of 1968; we want to press forward! But the only way we can do that is to ensure everyone has the opportunity to be heard, to participate in democracy, and to be respected – regardless of their political party.
The White House Fellows work to build relationships and prepare individuals to move forward as leaders.
I encourage anyone with an interest to apply to this great program. You can do so, here.
If you’d like more information about becoming a Fellow, feel free to reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the WHFFA’s mission and work, click here.