President’s Outstanding Youth Prize – Remarks by Ambassador Sullivan

Ambassador Sullivan decorating an award winner.

Ambassador Stephanie Sullivan’s Remarks

at the President’s Outstanding Youth Prize

Hosted by the Board of the Millennium Excellence Foundation

Labadi Beach Hotel, Labadi Suite, Accra, Ghana

Sunday, December 15, 2019; 4:00 p.m.


Founder of the Millennium Excellence Foundation,

Ashim Morton;

Governor Board Member of the Millennium Excellence Foundation, Sapna Mukhi;

Other Members of the Millennium Excellence Foundation;

Honorable members of the Government of Ghana;

Niimay, Naamay, Nananoom;

Members of the media;

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen;

Young people, whom we are recognizing and honoring today;

All protocols observed.

I’m honored by your invitation to be Guest Speaker today, especially because promoting youth leadership around the world is a key U.S. foreign policy priority, and also because this is a cause near and dear to my heart.

Throughout my over 30-year diplomatic career, and prior to that as a Peace Corps Volunteer teacher in the now-Democratic Republic of the Congo, I have seen firsthand how young people have the will to make a positive difference in their communities and nations.  They need leaders across all sectors to offer them the tools and opportunities to reach their fullest potential, starting with attaining a quality education.

That is why today I will highlight the important role of education to promote youth leadership, and to set young people today on the path to success.  I commend the Millennium Excellence Foundation’s commitment to build leaders in all sectors for Ghana’s future.

I also commend His Royal Majesty, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, the Asantehene, for his leadership as Life Patron of the Millennium Excellence Foundation.

I share the Millennium Excellence Foundation’s recognition that the young people of Ghana are key to further developing this nation, as they will be its future leaders.  First and foremost, this vision highlights that Ghanaian voices and solutions to challenges are key.  Ghanaians are best poised to identify the best path forward on their journey to self-reliance.

The United States shares your vision and commitment to Ghanaian youth.  We also applaud the emphasis Ghanaians place on attaining an education as essential for your children and youth, and women and girls.

In the words of the late Ghanaian educationist Dr. James E.K. Aggrey, “The surest way to keep people down is to educate the men and neglect the women. If you educate a man you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family.”

The United States is proud to promote academic exchanges and education programs as an investment in Ghana’s future.  We are also proud that the United States remains the nation of choice for Ghanaian youth to study abroad.  That is why I want to invite Ghanaian youth to consider applying to study in the United States.  That is why there are vigorous academic partnerships between our academic institutions, which we want to expand further through the University Partnership Initiative of the U.S. Department of State.

We want to welcome more Ghanaian youth to study at one of our institutions and then come back home to contribute to Ghana’s development in agriculture, academia, business, government, film, music, and whatever field their talents take them.

I have good news on this.  The recently released 2019 Open Doors Report on international education showed an overall 14% increase over 2018 in the number of Ghanaian students attending universities and colleges in the United States, to 3,661 from 3,213.  This brings Ghana into second place in Sub-Saharan Africa, a spot previously held by Kenya.  The number one spot is held by Nigeria, with 13,423 students.  We believe that in two years we can increase the number of Ghanaians studying in U.S. campuses to over 5,000.

On the other side, we are also pleased to see that Ghana experienced an increase in the number of American students participating in study abroad programs in Ghana to 2,210 from 1,865. This makes Ghana the second most popular destination in Sub-Saharan Africa for American exchange students, only after South Africa. These statistics demonstrate that exchanges between our citizens are successfully expanding mutual understanding and strengthening the ties between our nations.  American and Ghanaian youth share aspirations to connect with one another to build a future of peace and prosperity for us all.

When we speak of youth leadership, we also should raise awareness on the importance of mentorship.  I encourage Ghanaian youth to identify mentors to give them the guidance that they need to succeed.  Every person needs support, encouragement, and at times some direct talk to attain success.  I also urge women to mentor one another more.  When we champion and mentor girls, we are investing in their future and the future of our communities, nations, and world.  It takes just a little time to make a major difference in a young man and woman’s life.

I encourage Ghanaian youth to identify your talents and display resiliency on your journey to success, whatever your goal. To cite an African saying that goes against the grain of the more commonly encountered attitude of “wait your turn,” “When the youth beat the drums, the elders can also dance.”

Remember Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu, a son of Ghana.  As a young boy, he grew up close to Kotoka airport in Accra and dreamt of far away places as he saw airplanes taking off every day.   He pursued his dreams and is now a robotics engineer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), in addition to the chief engineer and technical group leader for the mobility and manipulation group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

He has been associated with various NASA Mars missions, notably the Mars Rover and InSight projects.  Because he pursued an education and followed his dreams, humanity now has a better understanding of the planet Mars, as well as robotics breakthroughs useful for applications closer to home here on Earth!

Somewhere in Ghana today is a young person who may one day invent new technologies that will revolutionize digital communications, or become the CEO of an agricultural company that will modernize this key sector and position Ghana to nourish itself and become a major exporter of food across Africa, thereby generating needed jobs, income, and food security.  Somewhere out there is a future President of the Republic of Ghana.

Thanks to the Millennium Excellence Foundation for encouraging these youth today.  I am confident they will contribute to an ever-more prosperous Ghana, which is both good for Ghana and good for the United States.

Thank you.