Welcoming Address by Puongpun Sananikone, East-West Center Board Chair
Delivered at the

2008 EWC/EWCA International Conference

"Building an Asia Pacific Community: Unity in Diversity"

Bali, Indonesia

November 12, 2008


On behalf of the EWC Board of Governors, I extend to you a warm welcome!

It is inspiring to be part of a gathering such as this! It was 20 years ago that we gathered here on this sacred and beautiful island.

I hope you were as moved as I was by our EWC President, Charles Morrison’s Keynote Address this morning.

Imagine – we have more than 500 East-West Center alumni, and friends here today, celebrating our affiliation with the East-West Center that for nearly 50 years has quietly embodied our conference theme of “Unity in Diversity.”

Being here with you today--and having the honor of serving you as the first EWC alumnus entrusted with the Chairmanship of the Board of Governors-- is one of the most humbling moments of my life. All of us have personal stories about our journey to the EWC, and I look forward to listening to yours in the next few days.

My East-West Center journey began in early summer of the 1962-63 school year, when I joined hundreds of high school exchange students from all over the world at the foot of the Washington Monument, in Washington D.C. We had just finished spending our senior year at high schools, living with American families, in all parts of the United States under the sponsorship of American Field Service, or A.F.S. The gathering at Washington Monument was the final highlight of our year-long experience in the United States. We went from the Monument straight to the White House lawn, where we were warmly welcomed by a very young-looking and very eloquent U.S. President—John F. Kennedy. The President urged us to maintain contact with one another and to help promote peace and mutual goodwill around the world. For that brief moment, our young hearts and idealistic minds became united as one. As we hugged, laughed and cried in saying goodbye to each other, we were chanting the AFS motto which I still remember vividly. The motto goes something like this-----“Walk together, talk together, all Ye peoples of the Earth. For then, and only then, shall Ye have peace.

So, imagine how incredibly fortunate I felt just two years later, when I found myself landing on paradise on earth, and at a budding, pioneering institution called the East-West Center -- a place where every day I was actually walking, talking, studying, and living with hundreds of people from all over the Asia Pacific region, including those from the very a diverse nation of the United States of America.

My fellow EWC students and I – including a smart and attractive young Vietnamese student who is now my wife -- had landed happily at the EWC in Hawaii. Imagine landing in the one state in which there is no majority – but only a coalition Hawaiians, Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, Caucasians, Pacific Islanders, and many others living and working every day in the beauty, diversity and unity of the East-West Center.

One of the EWC students from Pakistan, Abdul Qavi Zia, expressed the wonder of it all by saying that in many places around the world, even if people like you, they still treat you as a foreigner. But in Hawaii, and at the EWC, “there don’t seem to be any foreigners.”

The transformative power of the East-West Center experience stays with you and me, and all the people who come into contact with it. And I believe that’s one of the main reasons so many of us travel so many miles to attend these alumni gatherings year after year, decade after decade! We know that the personal and professional networks, the outlooks and aspirations we gained at the Center are a gift that will remain with us forever. This life-long gift helped us to transcend cultural, ethnic, and political divides. And for many of us, it has transformed the way we think, the way we live our lives and most importantly the way we view the world.

As part of the East-West Center worldwide community, we are committed to the ideal that by understanding and accepting our differences and appreciating our similarities, we can each do our part to make the world a more harmonious and less dangerous place to live in.

As Dr. Charles Morrison reminded us this morning, these are not easy times. But in the midst of two wars, and the uncertainty of continuing global financial breakdowns, and other contentious issues that are dividing the world, I hope you share my strong conviction that the East-West Center is needed NOW more than EVER. And that its founding Mission is more relevant today than ever. And the transformative power of the East-West Center needs to be strengthened and expanded. We are here today to re-affirm our shared belief that there is a great deal that we can do together to ensure the long-term stability and growth of the East-West Center.

This year the EWC will welcome some 500 students from 50 nations! We can be proud of all that Charles Morrison and his team have done to strengthen the Center, especially the student and alumni programs. And we can work together to maintain the unprecedented harmony that Charles has created among our alumni, Board of Governors, the Foundation Board, staff and friends of the East-West Center worldwide.

Now, as we approach the EWC’s 50 th Anniversary in the year two thousand and ten, let each of us pledge to do what we can to give back -- recognizing all we have been given, and determine to make it possible for others to benefit from the EWC experience. I hope many of you will plan to join us in Hawaii for this big home-coming. And I am sure that those of you who can not make it to Hawaii, will be there in spirit.

United in our diversity and inspired by our shared East-West Center experience, and lasting friendships, we have much to offer the world in its continuing endeavor to build Unity in Diversity.

So once again, thank you for being here and for representing those who could not. And most of all, thank you for continuing to participate in, and giving back to the Center and the World, through your Chapter activities and your own personal accomplishments across the world.