The American Academy of Achievement returned to Washington, D.C. for the 2007 International Achievement Summit. From June 19 to 23, nearly 300 graduate students from 50 countries gathered to learn from the experience of the world's leading figures in the arts and sciences, sports and entertainment, business, politics and public service. Twenty-nine new honorees were inducted into the Academy, joining a constellation of returning honorees and special guests for a series of symposium sessions and panel discussions held in the most historic and inspiring locations of our nation's capital. Members of the Academy, new and old, stayed at the elegant Hay-Adams Hotel, facing the White House across Lafayette Park.
Members of the Academy and special guests attending the 2007 Summit included: the 42nd President of the United States, William J. Clinton; First Lady Laura Bush; the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; Senators Chuck Hagel and Barack Obama; Secretary of the Treasury Henry M. Paulson; Secretary of Defense Robert Gates; Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; CIA Director Michael V. Hayden; Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte; Congressman John Lewis; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace; former NATO commanders Wesley Clark and Joseph Ralston; the Mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley; Nobel Peace Prize recipients Desmond Tutu and Elie Wiesel; recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Professor Toni Morrison; Pulitzer Prize authors Thomas Friedman, N. Scott Momaday, Suzan-Lori Parks, Dana Priest, Neil Sheehan and Lawrence Wright; Congressional Medal of Honor recipients Michael Thornton and Thomas Norris; track and field legend Sir Roger Bannister, Basketball Hall of Fame honoree Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Super Bowl champion quarterback Peyton Manning; Olympic Gold Medalists Andre Agassi and Dorothy Hamill; two-time Best Actress Oscar recipient Hilary Swank; filmmaker George Lucas; best-selling author Calvin Trillin; and country music sensations Brooks and Dunn.
The Host Chairman of the 2007 Summit was Catherine B. Reynolds, Chairman and CEO of The Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation. The Summit was made possible by a generous grant from The Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation.
The week's events opened on a characteristically dramatic note on Tuesday, June 19, with an evening at the United States Supreme Court. The Academy's student delegates, many of whom had only arrived from overseas an hour or two earlier, were transported to the court by motorcade with police escort. On arrival, they were received in the courtroom by Chief Justice John Roberts, along with his colleagues, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, both members of the Academy's Awards Council. In the informal discussion that followed, the Justices surprised many of the students, not only with their warmth and good humor, but with their spirit of collegiality. Far from presenting the image of a court divided into opposing camps, the Justices emphasized their common commitment to the Constitution and to the pursuit of impartial justice.
Immediately after their question and answer session with the Justices, the student delegates were treated to an elegant dinner in the majestic Great Hall of the Court. Before returning to their hotel for the evening, the students took a tour of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. At the Lincoln Memorial, they took part in an unusual discussion of the Vietnam War and its relevance to the war in Iraq, moderated by veteran broadcaster Sam Donaldson. The panel's participants were the renowned Vietnam War correspondent Neil Sheehan, along with three veterans of that conflict: General Wesley Clark, and Medal of Honor winners Michael Thornton and Thomas Norris.
The following morning, the student delegates took a tour of the National Archives, where they saw the famous Charters of Freedom: original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In the Archives' state-of-the-art MacGowan Theater, they heard from a number of distinguished Academy members, including the acclaimed author of Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden; David Rubenstein, the founder of private equity giant The Carlyle Group; consumer advocate Ralph Nader; and Dr. Ian Frazer, creator of the human papilloma virus vaccine, the first vaccine to offer immunity against a specific form of cancer.
In the afternoon, a large contingent of student delegates continued their exploration of the frontiers of medicine, traveling to the sprawling campus of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in nearby Bethesda, Maryland. There, they met with some of the distinguished Academy members from the medical sciences: the Director of NIH, Dr. Elias Zerhouni; Dr. Francis Collins, the Director of the National Human Genome Project; the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci; and Dr. Steven Rosenberg, the Director of the National Cancer Institute. Students also met with a number of the Institute's patients -- men and women whose illness had not responded to conventional treatment but are now recovering and resuming normal lives through Dr. Rosenberg's revolutionary immuno-therapy. Dr. Rosenberg and his colleagues urged the Academy's student delegates, many of them medical scientists themselves, to continue exploring the unsolved mysteries of health and disease. Dr. Zerhouni recalled the feelings that led to his own breakthroughs in medical imaging, "Let me find a better way."
That same afternoon, another contingent of Academy student delegates were taken for a rare behind-the-scenes visit to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where much of the work of the White House staff is done. In Room 450, the familiar setting of televised press briefings, the students heard candid off-the-record remarks from the White House Chief of Staff, Josh Bolten, and from Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, who surprised many of the students with his self-effacing good humor in the uninhibited give-and-take of a long question and answer session. Two new Academy members from the upper reaches of government also spoke with the Academy's students: the top-ranking officer in the United States military, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace; and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, who not only discussed his role as the federal government's chief financial officer, but his previous career as Chairman of the banking house Goldman Sachs, and as head of the world's largest environmental organization, The Nature Conservancy.
From the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, student delegates traveled to the Department of Justice, where they were met by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other top-ranking officials, including the FBI's Assistant Director for Counterterrorism, Joseph Billy, Jr., and the federal government's chief litigator, Solicitor General Paul Clement.
That evening, all of the Academy's student delegates visited the Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Office Building. Amidst the high, coffered ceiling and imposing columns of this room, where so many historic Senate hearings have taken place, they heard from the ranking member of the upper house, majority Leader Harry Reid. The excitement rose with the arrival of the charismatic Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, who paid gracious tribute to Academy member Desmond Tutu, a hero of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska charmed the students with his down-to-earth manner and self-deprecating humor. All three Senators were inducted into the Academy of Achievement by Archbishop Tutu. Following their evening at the Russell Building, the students were taken to the Hall of Flags at the United States Chamber of Commerce for a dinner with the many members of the Academy who had arrived in Washington throughout the day. During the evening, student delegates Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp, also known as the Wreckers, performed a set of songs from their Grammy-nominated debut album.
Thursday morning, the entire assemblage of Academy members and student delegates traveled to the State Department, where Academy members conducted a fascinating symposium on world affairs. A. Scott Berg, a past recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography, discussed his research for an upcoming book on President Woodrow Wilson, architect of the United States' leading role in international affairs. Legendary investigative journalist Bob Woodward discussed the war in Iraq and the leadership of President Bush. Lawrence Wright, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for his book on the terrorist group Al Qaeda, discussed his adventures as an investigative reporter in the Middle East. Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, who was also honored with a Pulitzer for investigative reporting, discussed her exposés of CIA secret prisons, controversial methods of interrogation, and unacceptable conditions in the outpatient facilities at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. One of the most inspiring addresses of the week came from Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The Archbishop filled the hall with laughter when he presented the Biblical story of the Annunciation in the form of a knock-knock joke, before making a more profound point about the universal call to serve a cause larger than ourselves. The assembly enjoyed luncheon that day in the diplomatic reception rooms of the State Department, with their priceless collections of historic artifacts.
The afternoon session returned to the Chamber of Commerce, where Academy member Dr. Benjamin Carson discussed his odyssey from the ghetto to the operating theater, where he has performed groundbreaking surgeries on the human brain. Scientific presentations during the Summit ranged from the cosmic to the microscopic. Astrophysicist John Mather demonstrated his Nobel Prize-winning discoveries concerning the microwave background radiation of the universe. Later in the Summit, Dr. Craig Mello made a breathtaking animated presentation of his discovery of RNAi, the "interfering" protein that regulates many phenomena of heredity and immunity.
A panel discussion of social entrepreneurship, led by former presidential adviser David Gergen, featured Academy member Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach from America, along with special guests Mike Feinberg, Kirsten Lodal, Jon Schnur and Billy Shore, who have all founded nonprofit organizations to provide quality education to disadvantaged youth.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks delighted the audience with her effervescent personality, while making a more serious point, that public recognition of any professional accomplishment imposes a greater responsibility to society. Later in the Summit, the novelist and poet N. Scott Momaday also made a memorable appearance, telling three Native American tales -- legends and fables that illustrate the unique viewpoint of his ancestral culture. Thursday afternoon's program concluded with a bracingly witty address from the best-selling author and filmmaker Nora Ephron.
More remarkable experiences awaited the Summit participants. On Thursday evening, the student delegates were taken for a private tour of the United States Capitol, ending with a dinner in the Capitol's famed Statuary Hall. The entire assembly of students and Academy members traveled from the Capitol to the Cannon House Office Building through the underground passage used by members of Congress. At the Cannon Building, they heard from three exceptionally distinguished members of the Academy. First, they were welcomed by the Speaker of the House, Nancy J. Pelosi. Congressman John R. Lewis, a hero of the 1960s Civil Rights movement, made an impassioned and inspiring address. Congressman Lewis reminded the Academy's students of what the movement had accomplished without the aid of cell phones, the Internet, or any of the other communications technology that are now considered so essential to political activism.
The unmistakable high point of the evening came with the arrival of the 42nd President of the United States, William J. Clinton. President Clinton spoke at length, touching on a vast range of issues, from Iraq to global warming. He asserted that solutions to a wide range of problems, from health insurance to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, are already within reach. The outlines of successful compromise are well known to policy makers, he insisted; all that remains is the political will to effect them. That impetus, he emphasized, will not come from elected political leaders. It must come from civil society and the people themselves.
The former president happily took challenging questions from the student delegates, supplying thorough, detailed answers to every question. In his most emphatic point, President Clinton noted that all human beings share more than 99 percent of their DNA. Like the Supreme Court Justices and the U.S. Senators who spoke earlier in the week -- and like Desmond Tutu, who spoke that morning -- President Clinton emphasized the need to concentrate on the universal aspirations that unite us all, rather than the relatively trivial differences that divide us.
Friday morning's session at the Chamber of Commerce opened with a good friend of the Academy, Congressman Ed Markey, one of the House's established leaders on environmental issues. The Congressman led an informative discussion of Global Warming and the Environment with a distinguished panel of Academy members: marine biologist Sylvia Earle; paleoanthroplogist and conservationist Richard Leakey; and John Morgridge, the business leader responsible for the success of Cisco Systems, who is now Chairman of The Nature Conservancy.
Famed journalist Thomas Friedman, the recipent of multiple Pulitzer Prizes, addressed a number of issues in a wide-ranging covnersation, but concentrated on the climate crisis and related environmental issues. Author Calvin Trillin followed with a deadpan recitation of his own career as a journalist and creative writer that had the audience of 500 dissolving in laughter while he retained his eternally dry, unflappable composure.
Financier and philanthropist Mike Milken discussed his path to success in business and his prodigious charitable ventures. Legendary filmmaker George Lucas recalled the persistence that enabled him to succeed in a competitive field, while emphasizing the responsibility of men and women in all walks of life to serve a calling higher than mere self-interest.
The student delegates were surprised by the arrival of Hilary Swank, the intense star of such films as Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby, roles that earned her two Oscars as Best Actress. In an utterly unpretentious and candid address, she discussed her grueling physical preparation for these demanding roles. Nothing worthwhile can be accomplished without complete dedication, she affirmed, and no award or other form of public recognition can take the place of the satisfaction that comes from continually meeting fresh challenges. The morning's session ended with a deeply moving appearance by Elie Wiesel, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Speaking in hushed tones, Wiesel held the audience spellbound as he described how the murder of his family, and his own experience in the concentration camps of World War II inspired him to travel the world as a journalist, author and witness, exposing injustice wherever it arises.
During a luncheon session, two pioneers of human stem cell research, Dr. James Thomson and Dr. John Gearhart gave an intimate presentation of their research to a select group of the Academy's student delegates in the medical sciences. That afternoon's program began with an exceptional discussion of education policy, moderated by David Gergen. The Academy members who formed the panel are among the nation's most distinguished leaders in the fields of education policy: the Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings; Chicago Mayor and education reformer Richard M. Daley; New York University President John Sexton; MIT President Susan Hockfield; and physicist Shirley Ann Jackson, the President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
The final speakers of the afternoon were some of the most distinguished athletes and artists the United States has produced, beginning with basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and tennis champion Andre Agassi. The only living American recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Professor Toni Morrison, made an eloquent address and received an enthusiastic reception from the student delegates. Legendary theatrical director Harold Prince discussed his extraordinary half-century career. The last speaker of the afternoon was the quarterback of the world champion Indianapolis Colts, Peyton Manning. Manning is not only a champion on the gridiron, but an exceptionally active philanthropist, who devotes his time away from the football field to an array of innovative charitable activities.
The 2007 International Achievement Summit culminated in the black-tie Banquet of the Golden Plate at the historic Mellon Auditorium, transformed for the occasion into a glittering banquet hall, brimming with flowers. The Academy's Class of 2007 was inducted into the Academy, beginning with First Lady Laura Bush, who made a characteristically warm and gracious address, thanking the Summit's host, Catherine B. Reynolds, and praising the accomplishments of a number of Academy student delegates, past and present, including Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Academy members and students enjoyed a splendid meal and shed the solemnity of some of the week's more serious discussions to enjoy the rollicking music of Gretchen Wilson and Academy honorees Brooks and Dunn.
One might have wondered how an audience of serious young scholars, fresh from Oxford, Cambridge and the Ivy League, would respond to the uninhibited sounds of heartland America, but when Brooks and Dunn kicked into their signature song, "Boot Scootin' Boogie," students, statesmen, distinguished political commentators and Nobel Prize-winning scientists all took to the dance floor.
As speakers from Archbishop Tutu to President Clinton had reminded the assembly over the past week, human beings have far more in common than dictators and hate-mongers would have us believe. Opposing parties, different religions, half a hundred nations -- all met on the dance floor at the Mellon Auditorium to celebrate the joy of living in a world of limitless opportunity. The following morning, Academy members and student delegates returned to their respective homes, fired with renewed inspiration to dedicate their own unique talents to the common cause of all humanity.
See Student Letters for the observations and reflections of the Academy's student delegates on their extraordinary experience.
First Lady Laura Bush welcomes the International Achievement Summit.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy addresses Academy student delegates at the International Achievement Summit.
Chief Justice John Roberts looks on while Academy member and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks with Academy students.
Sam Donaldson, Neil Sheehan, Wesley Clark, Thomas Norris and Michael Thornton discuss the lessons of the Vietnam War in an outdoor session among the monuments of Washington.
White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten addresses Academy students at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Presidential adviser Karl Rove engages Academy students in a spirited give-and-take during the Academy Summit.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson takes questions from student delegates in an afternoon session of the International Achievement Summit.
Dr. Steven Rosenberg discusses his cancer research with student delegates at the National Institutes of Health.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid addresses Academy students.
Senator Barack Obama speaks at the International Achievement Summit.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu addresses the Academy at the State Department.
Dr. Benjamin Carson opens an afternoon symposium session at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks charmed students with her ebullient presentation.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi with Elie Wiesel and his wife, Marion, on the Speaker's balcony at the Capitol.
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and his wife, Margaret, at the U.S. Capitol.
Speaker Pelosi and Congressman John Lewis greet President Clinton at the International Achievement Summit.
Conservationists Richard Leakey and John Morgridge engage in a panel discussion of environmental issues.
Journalist Thomas L. Friedman discusses the global climate crisis.
University presidents Shirley Ann Jackson and John Sexton enjoy a lively policy discussion with U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.
Super Bowl champion quarterback Peyton Manning joins the Academy at the International Achievement Summit.
First Lady Laura Bush receives the Golden Plate award from Olympic skating champion Dorothy Hamill.
Tennis champion Andre Agassi (center) with Congresswoman Jane Harman (R) and her husband, Dr. Sidney Harman (L) at the Banquet of the Golden Plate.
Country music stars Brooks and Dunn receive the Golden Plate Award from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Medical scientist Brian Druker receives the Academy's Golden Plate award from MIT President Susan Hockfield.
The Director of the CIA, General Michael Hayden, is presented with the Golden Plate by John D. Negroponte.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, USMC, receives the Golden Plate from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Investigative journalist Dana Priest receives her award from Washington Post publisher Donald Graham.
Legendary Broadway director Harold Prince receives the Golden Plate award from Nobel laureate Toni Morrison.
Award-winning actress Hilary Swank and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson enjoy the Banquet of the Golden Plate.
Host Chairman Catherine B. Reynolds and NYU President John Sexton at the Summit, along with Ralph Nader and Nader associate Theresa Amato.