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Honorary Degree Citation - The Honorable Harry K. Thomas, Jr.

Friday, May 27, 2016
The Honorable Harry K. Thomas, Jr. '78
Doctor of Public Service

Your extraordinary career in foreign service has taken you to hot spots around the globe. As the former ambassador to Bangladesh and the Philippines, and now ambassador to Zimbabwe, you have been at the forefront of sweeping political and social change for more than three decades. Your extensive resume is a testament to your ability to manage the complex structures of diplomacy and real-time demands of crises in distant lands.

You bring inspired leadership, broad knowledge, great courage and a compassionate heart to every international posting. The people of the Philippines dubbed you “a people’s diplomat” because of your active interest in learning their language, understanding their culture, listening to their music and exploring their geography. Your personal hero, Nelson Mandela, said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Today you speak Spanish, Hindi, Tagalog and Bangla, the native tongues of the people whose homelands you have shared.

As a young man from Queens you wanted to save the world. Your mother, a social worker, impressed upon you the importance of helping others. Your moral compass, recalibrated during your four years on The Hill, pointed you in the direction of public service. You earned a master’s degree in urban planning at Columbia and worked on housing issues in the Bronx. You found your passion and purpose when you joined the U.S. Department of State in 1984. Your foreign policy experience began with early postings to U.S. embassies in India, Nigeria and Peru. You moved up the organizational ladder from senior watch officer to deputy director, and then to director general of the U.S. Foreign Service and director of the State Department operations center. Appointed U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh in 2003, you oversaw a staff of 600 and a $100 million aid program. Your proudest moments came in 2006, when, as executive secretary of the State Department, you led a task force that coordinated the safe evacuation of 15,000 Americans from Lebanon during a violent confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah.

You have dedicated your life to international understanding, peace and the welfare of the world’s citizens. You have provided a strong voice for human rights. As ambassador to the Philippines, advancing the rights and well-being of women and girls was your top priority.

Though across the world, you have remained engaged with the College through your generous service and invaluable interactions with our students. You inspire them to embrace the world and to learn without limits. You embody the Jesuit ideals that underpin a Holy Cross education.

Grateful nations have recognized the tremendous contributions you have made as a visionary leader, an heroic protector and humanitarian. In 2013, you were awarded the Philippines’ Order of Sikatuna. The State Department has presented you with many leadership, distinguished service and mentoring awards.

That all may know of our great esteem for you and the vital work you do to elevate and protect our nation within the global community, the College of the Holy Cross confers upon you this day, the degree, Doctor of Public Service, honoris causa.