Featured Alumni Stories

Charles H. Rivkin FR'79
2017 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

Chairman and CEO, Motion Picture Association of America
Francis W. Parker School (IL)
Yale University, BA
Harvard University, MBA

From CEO to Ambassador to Assistant Secretary of State and now returning to CEO, Charles H. Rivkin FR'79's dynamic and visionary leadership has been paramount to his success in each of these endeavors.

Following a 20-year career in the entertainment industry, including roles at Jim Henson Co. and WildBrain, Rivkin was appointed in 2009 as the youngest U.S. Ambassador to France and Monaco and served until 2013. The pace, protocol and public relations of diplomacy wasn't an unfamiliar concept to Rivkin. In addition to the demands the entertainment industry, Rivkin spent his early childhood in francophone countries — Luxembourg, Senegal and Gambia — where his father, William R. Rivkin, served as ambassador under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

During his time in the Foreign Service, he witnessed first-hand the impact entertainment can have. He and his wife, Susan Tolson, opened the doors of the Ambassador's Residence to people who ordinarily would not have had access, hosting events and art exhibits throughout his tenure. One of Rivkin's key initiatives was youth outreach, focusing on the next generation of leaders. To reach this important group, he invited top Hollywood names including Samuel L. Jackson, will.i.am, Jodie Foster and Robert Zemeckis to speak with disadvantaged French youth.

In February 2014, Rivkin was named Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs responsible for managing trade negotiations, investment treaties, economic sanctions, transportation affairs, telecommunications policy, international finance and development related issues as well as intellectual property right protection.

During his tenure he led multiple economic policy dialogues on behalf of the State Department and co-chaired a meeting of the U.S.-Israel Joint Economic Development Group and co-chaired the first and second annual U.S.-Qatar Economic and Investment Dialogues. In March 2016, he signed the arrangement with Cuban government officials that reestablished regularly scheduled flights between the U.S. and Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years.

Rivkin has been the recipient of several prestigious honors. In 2013, French President François Hollande awarded Ambassador Rivkin the rank of Commander in the Légion d'honneur at the Elysée Palace. He is the first U.S. Ambassador in half a century to receive this decoration from a sitting French president. In February 2015, Rivkin received la Grande Médaille de Vermeil de la Ville de Paris, the city of Paris' highest honor, from Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, and in December 2016, he received the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award, its highest civilian recognition.

Rivkin's success in both the entertainment industry and in Foreign Service made him a strong candidate for his current role as chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). His skills and experience will bring a perspective to help further the mission of the MPAA around the world as the top Washington lobbyist for Hollywood.





SYA alumni make a profound impact in their careers and communities. Within our alumni community, certain individuals made extraordinary impact through professional and/or volunteer endeavors and in their contribution and leadership within the SYA community. The SYA Distinguished Alumni Award was established in 2015 to recognize these outstanding alumni leaders.

This year, SYA is proud to announce the 2017 recipients of this prestigious recognition: The Honorable Charles H. Rivkin FR'79 and Parker Harris FR'85. Their commitment to the elements of SYA's mission ― the adventure of understanding different languages, cultures and peoples — established an extraordinary foundation for their personal growth and development.

These alumni illustrate that SYA serves as a launching point for life. Since their year with SYA, each has distinguished themselves in a multitude of ways. They have found successful careers in international relations and technology. They have made a significant impact in their respective fields and through service, and continue to connect themselves and those around them to the global community. Read more about the Distinguished Alumni Award, and nominate your choice for 2018 by clicking here.