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First Vandenberg Prize awarded to Ambassador Jon M. Huntsman, Jr.


“By and large, [the world] respects the United States, they respect Americans. And when we’re together, and when we shine, and when we recognize that ‘politics ends at the water’s edge,’ there is no weapon system that the Pentagon can produce that is more powerful than that sentiment, and how it moves other people around the world. I have seen it. It is our nation’s most powerful weapon.”

So said Ambassador Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. as he accepted the first Vandenberg Prize from the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan (WACWM) at a luncheon in the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel on Tuesday, January 14.

A packed Ambassador Ballroom was the setting for the presentation, named for Michigan Senator Arthur Vandenberg (1881-1951), a native of Grand Rapids and revered for his bold declarations on America’s engagement in the world after World War II. The prize will be given annually to “a national or international leader who has been influential in developing global understanding and collaboration on the world stage.”

The quote “politics ends at the water’s edge” is attributed to Vandenberg, as he rallied leaders of both parties to rally around post-WWII initiatives such as NATO, the Marshall Plan and the United Nations. Vandenberg was one of the first U.S. representatives to the United Nations.

Huntsman, currently running for the Governorship of Utah, is the only American who has been ambassador to both Russia and China. He stepped down from the post as U.S. Ambassador to Russia on October 3, 2019. He has also served as ambassador to Singapore. In all, he served in a diplomatic or governmental post for five U.S. presidents. The fact that he was appointed by President Trump (Russia) and President Obama (China) also puts Huntsman in a special category of bipartisanship.

The Vandenberg Prize was awarded to Huntsman by Hank Meijer, the co-chairman and CEO of the Meijer Corporation, and author of a biography about Vandenberg titled Arthur Vandenberg: The Man in the Middle of the American Century (2017, University of Chicago Press).

In addition, WACWM instituted a Hillman-Orr Award (named after the council’s 1949 founders, Judge Douglas Hillman and Edgar Orr) to be given to a local person or organization that mirrors the intent of the Council’s founding leaders to bring global awareness and international understanding to the West Michigan community.

Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of The Right Place, the region’s economic development organization, was the first recipient.

Meijer said of Huntsman, “As West Michiganders eager for global interactions that promote our interests, as well as enriching economic, cultural and social growth around the world, we look to leaders such as Ambassador Huntsman for models of the ethics and civility and relentless striving to work out differences that characterize the best of our country.”

Ambassador Huntsman noted, “The world wants to see the United States unified around our core principles. We might criticize ourselves internally, and we are our own worst critics when it comes right down to it. The world wants us united—with the exception of Russia and China, sometimes. They want to see our values on display.”

He turned his attention to the college and university students in the audience and said, “I want you to remember as you exit today, you can forget everything else that you hear, but you have the power to change the world. One person, who can get out there, learn the issues, get educated, and do what Arthur Vandenberg and Gerald Ford did. Take an interest, get motivated, and change the world for the better.”

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