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Power of Place

Essay by President Tom Hassan

Earlier this summer, I had the privilege, and honor, of being part of the United States delegation to France in observance of the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings. My wife, Senator Maggie Wood Hassan (NH), was one of the 15 United States Senators to join several U.S. House members and President Trump in Normandy on June 6, 2019.

Our plane landed in Cherbourg Airport where, 75 years earlier to the day and to the hour, troops were landing on the shores in nearby Normandy. We spent time prior to the commemorative ceremony meeting and hearing from D-Day veterans, now well in their 90s, who so bravely came together as young teenagers to begin the mission that is among the most remarkable in history. 

For me, the most moving moment of the day took place during the ceremony itself, when President Macron awarded the veterans with the French Legion of Honor medal. All in attendance felt the weight and importance of the moment as we sat in sun-drenched rows of seats adjacent to the white crosses and stars that mark the graves of the thousands of Americans lost during the D-Day battles.  

Following the ceremony, our delegation traveled to Paris to meet with members of the French Senate and U.S. Ambassador to France Jamie McCourt. While in Paris, we also spent time with Rector of la Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris Patrick Chauvet among the salvaged pieces of the historic building, now carefully catalogued right outside the cathedral. The remarkably quick restoration and conservation work following the fire’s destruction has saved these critical architectural pieces of the church. It became clear to me, through various conversations that day, that the French have been greatly appreciative of the outpouring of support this spring from Americans, both in terms of emotional as well as financial outreach. In fact, they recall that after so many critical times, including after bombings of WWII, it was the Americans who so generously stepped forward to help the French. 

Right on the heels of this trip to France, I traveled to Viterbo to join over 30 of our SYA faculty from five cities around the world for SYA's second-annual Conference on Teaching and Learning Abroad. Beyond the significant progress we are making on designing a curriculum and student experience that cannot be replicated anywhere else, I was struck by the awe-inspiring connections made by our faculty during the five-day conference. Conversations that bridged more than five native languages and cultures; teaching pedagogies that unite schools around the world; expertise that spans architecture, language studies, art, and science — the conference was truly a gathering of international minds and cultures, all united behind one school. 

All these times are vivid reminders of the power and importance of international relations, and of the ability to understand cultures different than our own. They also remind me of the substantial and ever-present power of place, and its role in our understanding of ourselves and others around the world.

It is moments like these, from the D-Day anniversary to the gathering of SYA teachers and educational leaders, where I am reminded how truly honored and humbled I am to be a part of a global community that prioritizes cultural competency and language learning, and that embraces curiosity and a mindset of openness. Thank you for standing with me as we embrace things that are different than what we know and are accustomed to and joining me as we celebrate the common goals and values that unite us around the world. In short, I am proud to be a member of the SYA community, and I hope you are too. 

Tom Hassan SYAC19

President Tom Hassan addressing faculty from four campuses gathered in Viterbo for SYA's second-annual Conference on Teaching and Learning Abroad


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