Bookmark Print E-mail

Past Events

See the winners for the last 7 years of the Harold Keller Award for Public Service Leadership Award.

The award was established to honor the long-time leader of the Stennis Student Congress, Harold C. Keller, a speech and debate coach from Davenport, Iowa. In the year 2003, Keller stepped down from his post of National Clerk of the Congress. For over 25 years, the man affectionately known as "Mr. Congress," was a driving force in planning and implementing the yearly event. Keller always believed the greatest value of Student Congress is the preparation and inspiration it provides to future leaders in public service. In his years of service, Keller oversaw everything from printing legislation and organizing the chambers to supervising the judging and checking the results. Billy Tate, the National Forensic League president, said, "No person has done more to promote and improve NFL Stennis Student Congress as an event that Harold Keller." The award that pays tribute to Keller's long-time support recognizes an individual who has successfully applied lessons learned through Student Congress to become an effective leader in public service. Read the remarks from the United States Senate floor on the establishment of the Harold Keller Award for Public Service Leadership.

Winners of the Harold Keller Award for Public Service Leadership
2007 Ali Azizi



Steve E. Grubbs

Harold C. Keller spoke gleefully about students he coached, and how their successes and works in public service and civic engagement made “Old Dad” really proud.  Some of those alumni of Davenport West High School even stayed in Iowa’s Quad Cities area as speech and debate coaches, including Maggie (Hensler) Rietz and Joe Rankin, and have contributed to inspiring the next generation of young people.  One alum, in particular, stands out for his extensive commitement ot public service leadership, earning a unanimous nomination from his fellow alumni:  Steve E. Grubbs.

Mr. Grubbs competed in the National Senate in 1982, earning election as a presiding officer, as well as competing in Boys’ Extemporaneous, Speaking and Lincoln-Douglas Debate in 1983.  He went on to earn degrees in law and finance from the University of Iowa, where he served as Student Senate President.  While he was stilll earning his juris doctorate, Grubbs was elected a representative to the Iowa State Legislature, as well as serving on U.S. Senator Dole’s Iowa Staff.  He later chaired Presidentail campaign efforts in Iowa for Senator Dole and Steve Forbes.  After serving three terms in the legislature, Grubbs was elected chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, and later formed VictoryEnterprises, Inc., a company that provides comprehensive political and services as mobile app development, social media management, and opinion research.

He also has been active in the Young Presidents’ Organization, a professiona networking group for chief executive officers (CEOs) under 45, earning their esteemed Best Business Network Award, and Best of the Best Award for creating a culture of entrepreneurship.

He gives generously of his time and funds to support speech and debate at both the middle and high school levels.  In addition to assisting at his alma mater, Davenport West, he helped start a program at Davenport Assumption, which is now a charter chaper in the National Speech & Debate Assocation.  According to Jo Rankin, Grubbs “is a full-time business owner who opens his workplace Sunday nights to coach students.”  He also connects students to real-world political internships to apply what they’ve learned in debate.

Steve Grubbs and his wife, Kelli, have four children, all of whom have participated in speech and debate:  Eric, Jared, Justin, and Olivia.



Senator Randy Head

Indiana State Senator Randy Head has represented North Central Indiana since his election to the Assembly in 2008.  He is chair of the Local Government Committee and also serves on the Elections, Civil Law and Judiciary Committees.  During the 2013 legislative session, he authored legislation to increase the penalty for child solicitation crimes, to create school safety standards for students and to establish a system to investigate child fatalities.

Senator Head is an attorney at Tribbett Law Office in Logansport and also serves as the City Attorney.  He received his Juris Doctor from Indiana University School of Law and is an alumnus of Wabash College.

Senator Head is a graduate of Perry Meridian High School, where he achieved a degree of Distinction with the National Forensic League’s honor society.  At the 1987 National Congress, Head was elected outstanding representative in House 4, subsequently advancing to the Championship Session.

Senator Head was nominated by Dan Tyree and David McKenzie of Plymouth High School; Don Fortner of Munster High School; and Robert Kelly of Chesterton High School.  Said Superintendent Tyree, “Randy is a friend to educators, and has shunned his own party to support educators on nearly every issue.  We should celebrate Randy not only as a public servant, but one who supports public schools.”

Beyond his professional life, Head is involved in civic organizations.  He is a board member and former president of the Cass County Community Foundation and serves on the Indiana State Bar Association’s Pro Bono Committee.  He is also a member of the Fraternal Order of Police, Indiana Farm Bureau and Logansport Rotary Club.  He lives in Logansport with his wife, Lisa.



CPT Josh Swartsel is a native of Orlando, FL currently living in Spring Lake, NC. He attended Lake Highland Preparatory School before joining the United States Military Academy at West Point’s Class of 2007. Josh received his Bachelors of Science in International Relations, graduating with the Distinguished Cadet Award, the inaugural Pershing Writing Award, and other political science achievements. While at the Academy, Josh founded and captained the West Point Parliamentary Debate Team, and established their first annual tournament in the American Parliamentary Debate Association.

Josh was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Armor Corps and was posted to the 1st Cavalry Division in Fort Hood TX. He served as a Tank Platoon Leader, and Tank Company Executive Officer before deploying to Ninewa Province, Iraq in 2008 for combat actions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While in Iraq, Josh transitioned to serve as the Headquarters Company Executive Officer, managing non-lethal and humanitarian assistance for the city of Keyyarah.

Upon his return from Iraq, Josh was selected by the Army Special Operations board as a candidate for Civil Affairs. He has recently completed the 18-month pipeline to include the Captain’s Career Course, the Tagalog Special Operations Language Course, and the Civil Affairs Qualification Course. In March of this year, CPT Swartsel was selected for service in the 97th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), US Army Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, NC where he serves as a Deputy Civil Military Operations Center Chief, supporting Special Operations Command – Pacific.  His next assignment will be as a Special Operations Civil Affairs Team Leader, deploying in support of Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines or other contingency operations across the world.

CPT Swartsel’s military decorations include the Bronze Star, the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge, and German Armed Forces Military Proficiency Badge, along with the Commandant’s List at the Career and Qualification Courses.

As a student congress competitor from 1999 – 2003, Josh won championship rounds at Wake Forest, the Blue Key Invitational, and Tournament, and the 2003 NFL House National Championship.




Ryan Mulholland was presented with the fifth Harold Keller Award for Public Service Leadership at the 2011 National Forensic League Tournament.

He is chief executive officer and principal founder of Ptolemy Data Systems, a technology company based in Sheridan, Wyoming, where Mr. Mulholland has served on the city council.  Previously, Mr. Mulholland was a deputy sergeant with the Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office, where he was involved in planning, development, and implementation of an extensive and highly secure law enforcement computer network.  Mr. Mulholland also served with the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation.  His educational background includes political science and information systems.

Mr. Mulholland participated in the Senator John C. Stennis National Congress in the House of Representatives in 1995, and the Senate in 1996 and 1997.  He was Senate Champion and Final Session Presiding Officer in 1997, the same year the National Presiding Officer Award was established, the first of only three students to-date to win both the tournament and Presiding Officer Award.  He graduated from Shoshoni High School with 1,280 merit points accumulated for participation and success, reaching a degree of Outstanding Distinction in the NFL honorary society, and ranking first in points in 1997 for the Wind River NFL District of Wyoming.

Mr. Mulholland is married with two children and a third on the way.  His father and coach, Harold Mulholland, is a diamond coach and longtime parliamentarian at the National Congress, now coaching at Mexia High School in Texas.




Governor Mark Parkinson accepts the 2010 Harold Keller Award

The Honorable Mark Parkinson is the president and chief executive officer of the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL), which represents more than 11,000 for- and not-for-profit nursing homes, assisted living residences, and facilities for the care of people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities. Before leading AHCA/NCAL, the native Kansan was a successful businessman, state legislator, and most recently served as the 45th Governor of the State of Kansas.

A summa cum laude graduate of Wichita State University, Parkinson finished first in his class from the University of Kansas School of Law in 1984 before forming his own private practice law firm in 1986. In 1990, Parkinson was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives; two years later he was elected to the Kansas Senate. While serving in the state legislature, Parkinson earned a reputation for bridging party lines.

In 1996, Parkinson focused on a new passion—helping to enhance seniors’ quality of life by providing first-class elder care facilities. An owner and operator for more than 15 years, Parkinson helped to develop ten facilities in Kansas and Missouri. His experience as founder, developer, and CEO of facilities offering skilled nursing care, assisted living, and dementia-related care has given Parkinson a perspective that spans the continuum of care. His vision also helped to earn national recognition for the design of one of his assisted living facilities, and the title of “Outstanding Business in Northeast Johnson County” for his company.

Next, the successful businessman and former state legislator returned to the state capital, joining The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius as her Lieutenant Governor in 2006. Three years later, Parkinson was sworn in as Governor of Kansas when Sebelius was selected to serve as U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services.

Under his leadership, Kansas developed a comprehensive energy policy and a ten-year transportation plan for maintaining the state’s infrastructure. Citing his bipartisan support and ability to move the state forward even in challenging economic times, the Topeka Capital Journal named Parkinson “Kansan of the Year” in 2009.

Married for more than 27 years, Mark and Stacy Parkinson are the parents of three children – Alex, Sam and Kit – and active in community and charitable organizations.

From his hands-on work at the facility level to his experience in the State Legislature, the former Governor of Kansas is uniquely qualified to take on the challenges of addressing myriad health policy issues while guiding the nation’s largest association of long term and post-acute health care providers toward the future.



Josh Segall was born and raised in Montgomery and is proud to say that four generations of his family have made Alabama their home. He is an attorney at Copeland Franco in Montgomery. Segall is the son of a Bobby Segall, an accomplished Alabama attorney also practicing at Copeland Franco and champion of the Legal Services Corporation of Alabama.

Segall was the Democratic nominee for the 2008 election for the United States House of Representatives from Alabama's 3rd congressional district. He lost to incumbent Mike Rogers in a close election.

Segall was active in the NFL's Stennis Student Congress while in high school. At 15, he volunteered on his first campaign, walking door-to-door and handing out campaign literature.  He received his undergraduate degree from Brown University in 2001. Afterwards, he continued working on campaigns in Virginia, Texas, and Washington, DC. Segall earned his J.D. from the University of Alabama Law School in 2006. Before becoming a lawyer, Segall started Home Grown Alabama, an organization that opened new markets for local farmers.


Tamara Serwer Caldas was presented with the second Harold Keller Award for Public Service Leadership at the 2008 National Forensic League Tournament.

In 1988, Caldas received her diploma from Clark High School in San Antonio and enrolled in Princeton University. Four years later, she earned a bachelor's degree in English with honors. She worked with the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest for a year before beginning a dual degree program at the University of Texas leading to a master of public affairs and doctor of jurisprudence.

During law school, Caldas interned at the Texas Education Agency, Texas Third Court of Appeals for Hon. Bea Ann Smith, O'Melveny & Myers, L.L.P., and Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, L.L.P. Upon finished her degree, she spent a summer at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, assisting with civil rights lawsuits on behalf of immigrants, prisoners, and death row inmates.

Caldas went on to spend a year working for Hon. Martha Daughtrey on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Nashville. She then began a six-year trek at the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. At the Center, Caldas served as lead or co-counsel for civil actions in federal and state trial and appellate courts challenging unconstitutional conditions of confinement, such as physical abuse of prisoners, denial of medical and mental health care, and overcrowded/unsanitary conditions in Alabama and Georgia. During this time, she also taught continuing legal education courses on civil rights litigation and guest-lectured at Emory University and Georgia State University on public health and law. In addition, Caldas served as a contributor to public health and corrections policy conferences conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other federal entities.

For the next year and a half, Caldas worked for Claiborne, Outman & Surmay, P.C. She represented adoptive parents and birth parents in all aspects of adoptions, guardianships, and legitimacy proceedings. Caldas currently serves as managing attorney for the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation. She is responsible for facilitating volunteer representation of low-income residents of Atlanta in cases involving consumer, housing, family law, and other legal matters for which individuals would otherwise not be able to afford legal assistance. Caldas engages in legislative advocacy for policies that affect low-income consumers and represents clients in local courts and administrative hearings regarding the full range of issues affecting low-income individuals.

Founder of the Housing Advocacy and Resource Center, Caldas worked to ensure that this court-based program provided consultation and representation in eviction proceedings for tenants. She coordinates the Center's taskforce to consider how the court can be more involved in enforcing the Atlanta Housing Code to preserve habitable housing for low-income people in the community.

Outside of her work at the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, Caldas serves as the public service chair of the Princeton Club of Georgia and on the public service committee of the Atlanta Council of Younger Lawyers.



Ali Azizi Acceptance Speech - June 21st, 2007

Mr. Buffington, Mr. Keller, and the National Forensic League, thank you for having granted me this award. I have never worked for an award and never asked for any reward, so I must say I am honored and humbled. I would like to thank my debate coach, Ms Karen Wilbanks. Ms Wilbanks, thank you for coaching and guiding me, and thank you for teaching me the meaning of commitment. I remember that Ms Wilbanks used to give us inspirational speeches. One time I remember that she told us this story that there was an animal farm and the animals wanted to have a party, so they went around to ask each other who would bring what to the party. The cow said she would give her milk, the chicken said she would give her eggs, and then it was the little piggy's turn. The little piggy said that she would give pork. That according to Ms Wilbanks was the difference between contribution and commitment. I put this definition in the back of my mind and not a single day has gone by in the past thirteen years that I have not reminded myself of this story.

Young ladies and gentlemen, future leaders of America, it is a pleasure to be standing in front of you. I have a question for you. Who has been to Ellis Island? Who has seen the immigration museum? I remember on one of the placards it said: "they told me that the streets in America were paved with gold, but when I got to America I realized that the streets were not paved with gold. In fact, they were not paved at all. Moreover, I was expected to pave them." I cannot think of a better quote to represent my experience and my feelings toward America as an immigrant.

I was fourteen when I first arrived in this country and I did not speak a single word of English. I remember as the plane from Frankfurt flew over Long Island I thought, 'wow, what beautifully manicured rows of houses! How organized!' I was excited to finally enter the richest and most technologically advanced country in our age. I thought I was entering the golden country. There were aspects of this country that I truly found to be golden. I remember as an eighth grader studying and being fascinated by democracy and the American constitution, the stories of the founding fathers, and the Federalist Papers. I thought the political institutions of this country were wonderful. I fell in love with the political institutions of this country and I still love them.

But even from a teenager's view point it was apparent that not all was golden about this country. I remember on the first day of school I went to the bathroom. Two older boys were in the bathroom smoking something. Upon seeing them I walked back out of the bathroom. And believe me, they were not smoking cigarettes. They chased me to the locker areas, pinned me against the lockers and shouted ... something! To this day, I do not know what they said. I would have liked to know. In order to understand what people around me were saying, I resorted to the dictionary. The dictionary became my best friend.

But the dictionary could not help me with cultural differences. I remember as a child growing up in Iran I was told to cross my legs fully, one knee on top of the other. My father had told me that it was impolite for a man to have his legs uncrossed. This is what I was used to. Two weeks after coming to the United States, I remember we had a class discussion and we all sat in our desks arranged in form of a circle. I crossed my legs by placing one knee on top of the other. The other kids immediately started laughing and one said: "Ali, you homo." What were they telling me? I opened my dictionary and searched for "u-homo." I assure you, there is no such word in the dictionary.

I learned that in order to survive I needed to integrate and pave my own road in this American land-escape. I learned the language, I learned the culture! I joined speech and debate and like you young ladies and gentlemen I sat in those chairs and debated various policies. Mr. Buffington of the National Forensic League asked me to talk about myself and about my experiences. I have never talked about myself in front of a crowd, so I had to write some notes down. My experiences are inseparable from the politics of the Middle East, inseparable from war, and inseparable from immigration.

I was born in the city of Abadan, near the Iraqi city of Basra in the ancient Fertile Crescent. My first vivid memories came at the age of four in the form of bombardments by Saddam Hussein's army in what was to be the all but forgotten Iran-Iraq war. Saddam had the backing of the United States government. I remember hearing the red siren before every bombardment over and over again. Believe me, the red siren sends a cold chill down your spine; I hope you never have to hear it. I witnessed dead bodies on the side of the streets and burning and looting of homes and businesses. And although I never saw it, I heard many reports of women being raped. I don't wish to ever see it again or have anyone else experience it.

I remember that after some of the bombings of Iranian cities, the state owned media would go to the sites of bombardments and film the damage to be broadcast on TV. A couple of times they showed pieces of the bombs used. On one of the remaining pieces of an exploded bomb was written: "Made in the USA."

We moved to the city of Esfahan in the central part of the country. In the eighties, Iran was undergoing war, revolution, and political and economic isolation. Women were forced to wear the veil and many of their rights were taken away. The opposition and many educated and moneyed people escaped. The war with Iraq was escalating. The draft age had been lowered to 15 and there were rumors that it might be lowered to the age of 12. Rumors had it that they would use 15 and 12 year olds to walk across the mine fields. That was Iran's technology to defend itself against the much better equipped and American backed army of Saddam Hussein.

That's when my parents decided that enough was enough and that they would take me out of Iran. I was ten at the time. We went to Istanbul, Turkey where we discovered that having an Iranian passport was useless; no Western country would grant entry visas to Iranians. The only way out was to pay human smugglers and be smuggled across borders. So we did. Fortunately or unfortunately, we were caught and deported from France to Istanbul, where we landed in Turkish jail. That's where I grew up very quickly as a ten year old. I will not go into the details, but I will say that I remember one evening the Turkish police trying to separate my sister and me from our mother. My sister and I held on to our mother and would not let go. The policemen gave in. They could not separate us. That is when I realized that because of whom I was and where I was from and because Iran was undergoing social, economic, and political upheaval, I would be discriminated against. No country wanted us. But one country listened to us, decided that we had a good case and gave us the chance to start over again. That was the United States. We were granted legal immigration status to move here from Germany where we were staying as refugees.

Because of these experiences I developed a complex, perhaps a psychiatric complex. I came to believe that what I had gone through was because of centuries of bad decisions made by the leaders in the Middle East, and by Western powers. I believed in going back to the Middle East and Central Asia region and making some good decisions that would hopefully start a snow ball effect of better decisions to be made in the future. I believed in rebuilding the Middle East and Central Asia region. That is why I joined the Peace Corps and worked as a public health volunteer in Turkmenistan and that is why after the defeat of the Taliban I joined the International Medical Corps based in Los Angeles and went to Afghanistan.

Let me explain to you my first day when I landed in Kabul, just so that you may get a sense for what 23 years of war can do to a nation. I was on one of the very first UN flights into Kabul, Afghanistan in January 2002. When the airplane landed, I realized that there were pieces of burnt airplanes and human flesh spread all over the taxi way of the airport. The terminal did not have any glass left on it and the roof was caved in. Contrary to popular belief, Kabul is a very cold and snowy place in winter. The snowy wind would enter the terminal through one end and make a hissing noise as it exited the other end. As the taxi that I took drove from the airport into town, I realized there were many pot holes in the asphalt of the road. These holes had been created as a result of bombs hitting the asphalt. Half of the city lay in ruins and in the other half there was not a single building that was not bullet ridden or had unbroken glass on its windows. There was no electricity in Kabul, no internet, and no phones!

I was asked by the director of the International Medical Corps to conduct a health needs assessment of the school of nursing and midwifery in Kabul. I accepted. It did not take a genius to figure out that a whole new system for training nurses and midwives was needed. I then presented my findings to the new Minister of Health, Dr Soheila Sediq, a woman surgeon. I told her that Afghanistan's system for training nurses and midwives needed to be completely changed. She turned to me and said: "Well, change it." I told her that I did not have a proper clinical training and our organization lacked the funds to do this job. She in turn told me: "Listen son, either change it or go home, but do not waste my time!"

That was a wake up call! That's when Mrs. Wilbank's remarks about commitment versus contribution came to my mind. I decided to commit! I spent the next few months writing proposals and knocking on different donors' doors. Finally we got some money to start the project. We along with financial assistance from the US government brought consultants from the Johns Hopkins University to design the midwifery program. The Aga Khan University took over the project and brought consultants to redesign the nursing program. It was while working with the physicians on this project that I got inspired to become a physician so that I could train doctors in poor developing countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, and Bolivia. So I applied to and got accepted to medical school.

I came back to the United States only to discover that this country was a completely different country than the one that I had left three years earlier for my Peace Corps assignment. In this new America I was a walking national security threat. I had difficulty traveling. It did not matter whether I travel domestically or internationally. Most times when I travel I have been taken for interviews. So often four letter "S" has been placed on my boarding pass and I am taken to a separate area for a full body and luggage search where they take out and examine my belongings underwear by underwear. I fit the profile. Every time I fly domestically I have to present my passport, which does not help me much, because I have visas from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, you name the dangerous country and chances are that I have been there. The passport control people seem very nervous and angry every time they see my passport. To make them angrier I decided to travel more.

But then there is hope. Judge Motz gives me hope, my patients, particularly my Iraq veteran patients give me hope, and the people I worked with in Afghanistan also give me hope. Let me tell you why these people give me hope.

On Monday June 11, 2007, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz of the US federal appeals court wrote the majority opinion on the case of Ali Al Marri. Al Marri had been studying computer science in the US and since 2003 has been detained in a military prison with the suspicion that he may be a terrorist sleeper cell. Judge Motz wrote that no citizen or resident of the US may be kept in "indefinite military detention. This would have disastrous consequences for the constitution. We [the people] refuse to recognize a claim to power that would alter the constitutional foundations of our republic."1 This statement gives me hope, because the judge is paving the road to a full realization of the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution of the United States.

Ladies and gentlemen, don't get me wrong! I have traveled a lot in the Middle East and Central Asia. I have seen a lot of people who resent the United States and would like to inflict harm upon its people. I do believe that their anger at the US is mostly related to the US support for Israel, nevertheless they would like to harm this country. Our government has every right to go after these people and to protect itself and the people of the US, but let's not forget who we are.

Future leaders of America, let me remind you of the words of our constitution. The 5th Amendment states "no person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime unless on a presentment of indictment of a grand jury..." And the 6th Amendment further states that "in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy public trial by an impartial jury..." Nowhere in the constitution did I see the words that the government shall create a Guantanemo style prison and keep prisoners indefinitely without a charge just on a mere suspicion. Nowhere did I see that since the government cannot use torture to extort information from prisoners on the United States soil, it has permission to transfer people held on suspicion to countries like Tunisia, Ethiopia, Yemen, or East European countries where torture can be used. Let's fight terrorism, but let's not forget who we are and what our values and constitution are. I do not care which side of the political spectrum you stand on! Both sides have tried to limit civil liberties and take civil rights away in times of war. I do not take a political stand on this issue! Rather, I take a moral stand. Let's recognize that even terrorists or suspected terrorists as despicable as they may be have rights under our constitution.

Another story of hope concerns one of my veteran patients. He was a young twenty three year old when I met him two years ago. He was a tough guy from small town Texas, who wore cowboy boots, tight jeans, and a cowboy hat, and drove a truck. He had joined the military at the age of 20 with the idealism to serve his country and spread democracy. When in Iraq on one patrolling mission he and his fellow soldiers in the tank had heard gun shots. He told me he could not tell where the gun shots were coming from. Like any soldier in that situation he started firing back in all directions. When the dust settled, he realized that he had just killed two four year old Iraqi girls.

The image of the kids' bloody faces has haunted him ever since. He suffers from an extreme case of post traumatic stress disorder. He cannot sleep, he cannot hold a job, and he has let go of his wife and little daughter, because he cannot focus on them. What does the medical system do for him? Well we followed the protocol, we gave him anti-depressants, and gave him anti-psychotics, and prescribed group therapy sessions. None of this has truly worked. I told him to let go of the incident. I certainly could understand and condone his actions on the battlefield. After all, he was in a war zone, but he cannot forget or let go! He is human! He has a conscience. But he gave me hope because one time he turned to me and said "you know, going to Iraq I realized that Iraqis were human just like us: they ate and drank and lived in regular houses and wanted their children to go to school, and wanted to work. In fact most of them did not even care about politics, nor were most fundamentalist, they just wanted to live." This young man, despite his experience and his current condition was paving roads and making in roads with the people of Iraq as he embraced their humanity. This young man's realization that we all are human gave me hope.

I have yet another story of hope to tell. I realized through my work in Afghanistan that there was no dormitory for women from rural areas to come to Kabul to be educated as nurses and midwives and it was the rural areas that needed the largest number of nurses and midwives. I had the vision to build a dormitory for these women. I wrote a proposal. I went to donors and went to the Kabul city government to obtain land to build the dormitory. I remember waiting outside the city hall for many days in the cold snow. In the end the city wanted bribes from us, which we refused. Finally, the director of the hospital that was located across from the school agreed to donate the land behind the hospital for the building of the dormitory. The government of the USA gave the money and on my last day of work in Kabul, the Afghan Minister of Health and the American Ambassador signed the memorandum of understanding for the construction of the dormitory. What a great way to spend US tax payer dollars. I was happy and felt accomplished.

But as with anything in the Middle East and Central Asia, you never know what will happen next. Later when I was in the US in medical school, I found out that the land where we planned to build the dormitory was a mass grave of people who had been killed during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan back in 1980s. I thought the dormitory would never be built. But just a few weeks ago, my boss from when I worked in Afghanistan, a Canadian lady, took a trip to Kabul. She came back to inform me that I would be proud to know that the dormitory was finally built on the grounds of the nursing school itself rather than the grounds of the hospital across from the school. And the nursing school had been recruiting women from rural areas with the permission of the village elders. We did it Ms Wilbanks! You taught me commitment and as a result of my commitment to this cause Afghanistan now has its first dormitory for women of rural areas to be trained as nurses and midwives.

Ladies and gentlemen, the image of the USA abroad has been tarnished, but by paving roads and building inroads with people of other nations we can change that image. I am glad that president Bush offered to double the amount spent on HIV/AIDS and other health conditions in Africa. This was a step in the right direction. In 2004 in Iran and in 2005 in Pakistan there were great earthquakes and a lot of people were affected. In 2004 there was also the tsunami. In Iran the US Red Cross took an active role and in Pakistan and in the case of the tsunami, the US military was quick to provide generous aid. The locals were pleased and chose to go to the American medical aid tents over the tents erected by other nations. On a National Public Radio interview an old very conservative religious man in Northern Pakistan was interviewed and he said: "if America would use its soldiers more in this way than for purposes of invasions and occupations it would totally change its image." The voice of this man was broadcast all over the US. I believe in what he said.

By paving roads and making in-roads with people in need regardless of whether they are in this country or other countries we can improve this country's image abroad. And by improving the image of the United States we may be able to achieve more peace and avert more terrorist actions than any of our bombs or invasions of other lands would ever achieve. Ladies and gentlemen, just like my Iraq veteran patient discovered, we all live in one world, one globe. The American dream of owning a house, a car, getting a decent education, and a decent job, and having the right to vote so that we can shape our future, is not just an American dream. No, it is a global dream. Every human being in this globe would like to own a house and a car and get a decent education, a job, and have the right to vote. So join the Peace Corps, the Ameri Corps, Teach for America, the Red Cross, and a myriad of local, national, international, humanitarian, and non-governmental organizations that are trying to pave roads with the people around the globe. And by paving roads and making in-roads, we will be helping the people of this country and all other countries get a little closer to actualizing that global dream.

1 Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now" airing on June 12th 2007 on the National Public Radio.

Additional Information

Harold Keller Public Service Leadership Award
Steve Grubbs 2014 Winner
Randy Head 2013 Winner
Captain Josh Swartsel 2012 Winner
Ryan Mulholland 2011 Winner
Mark Parkinson 2010 Winner
Joshua Segall 2009 Winner
Tamara Serwer Caldas 2008 Winner
Ali Azizi 2007 Winner
   All Pages