In a life spanning nearly a century, Mike Mansfield left enduring marks on Montana, the U.S., and international diplomacy. Rising from work in Butte copper mines to lead the U.S. Senate and serve as our nation’s ambassador to Japan, he was respected for his wisdom, integrity, and leadership.
Mike Mansfield had a strong interest in fostering youth. In 1989, he gave a talk entitled, Message to Future Generations. He stated: “You are living in a world that is shrinking, the globe is becoming a neighborhood….We are going to have to understand each other better. And we’ll have to recognize that regardless of where we come from, no matter what our color or background, we all initially sprang from the same source. We’ll have to learn to get along with one another. We’ll have to be more aware of responsibilities which go with this rapidly speeding up world….It will be a matter of accommodation and compromise, knowledge and understanding.”
In Mike Mansfield’s name, the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center of The University of Montana has created a number of programs with the goal of empowering young people as positive forces in our communities and engaging them in international affairs and public policy. We start at an early age to foster mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and the people of other countries in order to promote peaceful relations, as well as to better prepare Montana youth for the challenges of today’s global economy.
A prime example of our efforts toward this mission is a new program we’ve just launched in Montana: The American Youth Leadership Program for Cambodia. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the program provides 20 Montana high school students and two high school teachers with an all-expense-paid trip to Cambodia to gain firsthand knowledge of a foreign country through the prism of global environmental issues. The group will experience Cambodia through visits to the capitol city of Phnom Penh and its nearby beaches; the forests of the Cardamom Mountains; and the floating villages and ancient temples at Siem Reap. Recognizing the importance of people-to-people relationships, our Montana students will be partnered with Cambodian high school students and live with host families.
Despite the differences in geography and climate, Cambodian and Montanan students will find many commonalities. Timber and forestry issues of the Cardamom Mountains parallel those of the Bitterroots. Lake depth, fish conservation, and pollution are concerns both in Tonle Sap Lake of Cambodia–the largest lake in Southeast Asia–and Flathead Lake in Montana–the largest lake west of the Mississippi. And ecotourism is of great concern in each region.
From an historical perspective, critical program components will include a visit to the ancient temples of Angkor Wat and an exploration of how that kingdom crumbled. The group will also have the sobering experience of learning about the Khmer Rouge era of 1975-1979, which resulted in the deaths of nearly two million Cambodians – approximately 25% of their population, and twice the population of Montana.
We at the Mansfield Center are honored to bring this project – the only one of its kind in the United States – to Montana. It serves to prepare youth leaders to become responsible citizens and contributing members of their communities. At the same time, it helps to develop a cadre of Americans with experience engaging in international dialogue, which will better equip them to communicate and interact with international representatives of the global economy: a key goal of UM’s Global Leadership Initiative. They’ll also learn new tools for taking action on environmental issues, locally and globally. For more information on this project, including application materials, please see our website at http://www.umt.edu/mansfield.
Senator Mansfield closed his message to future generations with the following: “you have been given a great challenge and what you do will determine what your successors will be. So I wish you all good luck and, as the Asians usually say, good health, good fortune, much happiness, and a long life.” On behalf of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center, I wish you all the same.