EWC 50 Spotlight: East-West Center Launches 50th Anniversary Celebrations at Dinner Honoring the Founders

At the dinner honoring EWC founding leaders and launching the Center’s 50th Anniversary, Maya Soetoro-Ng, sister to President Obama and daughter of EWC alumni Ann Dunham and Lolo Soetoro, speaks about the Center’s importance to her family.


Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter of former president, vice president and senate majority leader, Lyndon Baines Johnson, speaks on her father’s legacy in helping to establish the East-West Center.


U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye shares reflections on the origins of the Center:


Former Governor George Ariyoshi delivers an impassioned appeal for increased support of the East-West Center.


Maya Soetoro-Ng, Sister to President Barack Obama and daughter to EWC alumni Ann Dunham and Lolo Soetoro, speaks about her family’s ties to the East-West Center.


Jim Nabors closes the program with a stirring rendition of ‘Dream the Impossible Dream.’






More than 750 dignitaries, community leaders, EWC staff, students, and alumni and numerous other supporters gathered at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on the evening of January 9th, to help launch the East-West Center’s 50th anniversary celebrations.  Several guest speakers shared their personal stories and reflections on the founders and key figures in the Center’s history.  Below are excerpts from each of the presentations.   

Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter of former president, vice president and senate majority leader, Lyndon Baines Johnson:

When my father came here as vice president 50 years ago, to participate in the dedication of this magnificent monument to hope, it was a relatively quiet time in his life….The only future on his mind that day was the one he saw shaping here, a future with a promise of developing understanding and cooperation between and amongst between the people and the governments of the East and Western worlds….

Daddy at that time said, back in ‘61, “Of the works to which I have contributed, I have the greatest confidence this East-West Center will outlive them all.”  And now half a century later, I can echo and embrace those words with a daughter’s pride and satisfaction.  History remembers Lyndon Johnson as an effective and productive Senate leader and it is still true to say that of all the marks on history he made those years, the one that gave him great satisfaction, was his thumbprint on the plans for this Center.  

The dream from which the Center grew, breathtaking in its ambitious reach was simple in concept -- to bridge the historic gaps separating the two worlds.  And in those fifty years, those who had followed that dream have gone far in its pursuit….We have come together, we of so many nations to be and know each other and understand the problems that separate us and to value those that unite us.

U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye:

In 1960, we began the process with one student, the first one from Pakistan.  Today, we have over 57,000 participants who have taken part in the activities of the East-West Center. … Of all the interchange programs in the American agenda, I can safely say that this is the most respected in the world.  For example, at the time when the United States had no diplomatic relations with Burma, our ties were cut, but the Burmese government still sent East-West Center grantees to Honolulu….When Pakistan and India were fighting, grantees from both nations were sitting together (at the Center) discussing the future of their countries.  The East-West Center has served its purpose and will continue to do so.  

Former Governor George Ariyoshi
“..The East-West Center has become even more important now; their mission is more important, and they have more work to do. As we set focus on the Asia Pacific region, the people who live in this area will have a better understanding and feel for Americans as well as vice versa due to the efforts of the Center.”

Maya Soetoro-Ng, Sister to President Barack Obama and daughter to EWC alumni Ann Dunham and Lolo Soetoro:

Our mother and my father were both East-West Center grantees. … I think about them and the stories that our mother told me about the many many evenings sitting with people from Thailand, Bangladesh, and the Philippines, eating food from all over the world and sharing stories …

I think it was then that our mother grew wings and became the person she was destined to be, traveling all over the world and helping whomever she could. I think I also owe the Center for my very existence because I think they fell in love – good thing.  I also owe the Center for my marriage because I met my husband, Konrad Ng, at the Burns Hall, just like Mr. Sananikone.

I grew up, as did my brother, going to the East-West Center festivals, watching dance performances on the lawn. My daughter took some of her first steps by the koi pond and I trust that she will take her daughters there and that the Center will be a part of our lives for many years to come. …

I also would like to thank the Center for the very important role that it has in shaping our world’s future.  The truth is that as an educator I know that the services that the Center provides, the skills it will cultivate in so many, are indispensible in making our islands, our nation, our world, kinder and more peaceful.

I think the reasons that kept people together long ago no longer exist. People spoke to others and depended upon others in close geographical proximity, but now we have to engage with and negotiate with people from far flung countries.

The East-West Center … is important in making sure that in those negotiations people know how not to be contentious and antagonistic; that people understand how to flexibly adapt their words, hearts, and minds to find common solutions economically, environmentally, diplomatically. …

We would not be as successful as human beings without the Center. … We can look forward to nine more decades of the 21st century with this Center probing, and pushing, and challenging us to be more intertwined and to engage in acts of real benevolence with all of humanity’s welfare in mind. …