An enlightened world view at a young age
The clock crept past midnight in Geneva as University of Florida student Samuel Edouard made her way around the crowded hotel ballroom. Giant TVs tuned to CNN hung on every wall. Hundreds of dignitaries shuffled by the 21-year-old as she chatted with the United Nations ambassadors from China and South Africa.
In the U.S., Barack Obama had just won the 2008 presidential election. As diplomats at the public U.N. reception drank free sparkling wine and toasted the future, Edouard, a U.N. intern and first-time voter, couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate.
“There was no place I’d rather have been,” she said. “Everyone was genuinely excited for the U.S.”
Edouard attended the reception as part of her internship in the political section of the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in Geneva.
Raised by her Haitian mother in Miami and West Palm Beach, Edouard learned from an early age to think internationally. Her roots have given her a passion for human rights, especially in Haiti and Latin America, she said.
“I had it always in my mind that there was more to life than just the U.S.,” she said.
In Geneva, Edouard’s workday started at 8 a.m. Every morning, laptop in hand, she joined ambassadors and interns from more that 150 U.N. countries to discuss issues of international importance.
Though interns are often accompanied to U.N. meetings by a superior, Edouard’s supervisor trusted her to go alone, she said. As the representative for the U.S., she was expected to take notes, ask questions and deliberate with other countries, including Canada, France and Great Britain.
By 6 p.m. every day, Edouard had written a summary that would be sent to Washington. By 7, she was introducing herself to dignitaries at one of countless cocktail parties. Surrounded by diplomats, Edouard discovered her voice.
“It was really important to make friends with individuals from other countries,” she said. “If you can be friends with a tribe leader in Africa and an ambassador in China—that range of people—you can be friends with anyone.”
On one of her most exciting days, Edouard attended a session of the Human Rights Council. At a pivotal moment, the Russian ambassador defended his country’s invasion of Georgia. The next day, the incident was front-page news, she said.
“Things that happen there on a daily basis end up in international headlines,” she said.
At the end of her internship, Edouard was the only student in her section to receive a recommendation from the U.S. ambassador, she said. She also received a paid fellowship to work in Europe when she graduates.
After her fellowship, Edouard plans to study international law. What she learned at the U.N.—about the world, politics and herself—will help her speak up and be noticed for the rest of her career, she said.
“I think my voice is important,” she said.
- Photo credit: Kristen Bartlett Grace — University Photography