Before launching into her discussion of the state of representative democracy in Washington and around the world, Constanze Stelzenmüller of the Brookings Institution had a few words Wednesday for Indiana University and its School of Global and International Studies.
"This is my first time in Bloomington," Stelzenmüller said. "Some of us were wandering around the campus last night and admiring the glories of Midwestern institutions of public learning, something that I have enormous fondness and respect for.
"You all who are studying here are really, really lucky to be here."
Stelzenmüller was a presenter in the first panel of the conference "America's Role in the World: Issues Facing the New President," at the IU School of Global and International Studies. The topic was the rising anti-democratic tide around the world.
Panelists spent time discussing gerrymandering and whether the rise of the populist movement could have been foreseen. Amid worry about the future, Hoover Institution research fellow and School of Global and International Studies faculty member Tod Lindberg told the audience that it is "not time to abandon ship" -- that "ship" being the liberal international order.
E.J. Dionne Jr. of The Washington Post mediated the second panel, which covered power struggles between the U.S. and Russia. The panel debated the purpose of the world order and who it truly serves, as well as whether the U.S. and Russia should be considered "adversaries" or "rivals."
As Stelzenmüller warned in the first panel, language has "consequences in how people think about defending themselves."
Students attended a special session with Matthew Barzun, U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom from 2013 to 2017; Marie Harf, a former Department of State spokesperson and Fox News contributor; and Adam Hitchcock of Guggenheim Partners and former chief of staff to the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
The panelists shared advice with their audience of students over lunch, adding thoughts about leadership and their careers.
Senior Lydia Lahey, a student in the School of Global and International Studies and president of student organizations No Lost Generation and Students for Peace in the Middle East, attended the lunch session.
"I learned a lot," she said. "When I started here at SGIS at IU, I knew I wanted to be an ambassador, so I was really excited that there was going to be an ambassador speaking at this lunch."
Lahey said her biggest takeaway from the panel was the advice on how to add to her experiences to make her career goals a reality.
"After graduation, I'm going straight into my Ph.D. program, so I still have time before I have to find work," she said. "I'm still super curious about the best ways I can improve my chances to be able to be an ambassador and help the world some day."
Lahey will be pursuing a Ph.D. in refugee studies following her graduation from undergraduate programs in Near Eastern studies and linguistics. She said she attended the inaugural "America's Role in the World" conference in 2016, but this conference was even more applicable to what she'll be learning and applying as she continues her studies.
Honesty about career successes and failures was on the table throughout the conference. During the student session, Hitchcock answered a student question about how he found himself in his current career with a candid response about being true to passions but honest about weaknesses.
The same candid nature was apparent when Roger Cohen of The New York Times asked panelist Wendy Sherman, undersecretary of state for political affairs from 2011 to 2015 and lead U.S. negotiator on the Iran nuclear deal, if she laid awake at night knowing that President Donald Trump thought it was a "bad deal."
Graciously, Sherman said she was more worried about the consequences of the lack of compromise and what that meant for her grandchildren and future generations, not the plan itself.
While most panelists did not deny that the subject matter on the table was sobering and serious, the tone was supportive when students were addressed. The idea that IU students are the future was pervasive amid some pessimism about current affairs.
In closing remarks during her session, Sherman advised students to be humble and willing to compromise. Sen. Richard Lugar, also on Sherman's panel, emphasized the necessity of maintaining relationships and the need for students in attendance to be the leaders of tomorrow.
The conference closed with the session "Indiana's Role in the World," featuring an interview by IU President Michael A. McRobbie and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb. That interview was followed by a panel discussion led by IU Bloomington Provost Lauren Robel with three Indiana mayors, including South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a rising figure in the Democratic Party. An archived video stream will be available online at broadcast.iu.edu.