Five years ago, Caroline Kennedy met with President Barack Obama, offering her services to his administration. Expecting to receive a legal or educational post, instead she was offered the ambassadorship to Japan, where she wound up serving until 2017.
Kennedy was the first woman given the ambassadorship, and while in the position she orchestrated Obama’s 2016 visit to Hiroshima, a key moment in U.S.-Japanese relations since the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb there during World War II. The daughter of President John F. Kennedy focused on both those discussion points during her Tsai Lecture at Harvard on Tuesday, “Reflections on My Time as Ambassador.” In his introduction, her son, Harvard Law School student Jack Schlossberg, said, “She always tried to understand the Japanese perspective; she was relentless in her pursuit. She embodies an America that was humble and compassionate.”
Kennedy told the packed audience that her passion for Japanese culture went back to her days as a Harvard undergraduate.
“I had spent a good deal of time in the Kennedy Library, working on issues of historical memory. Those issues would be front and center in Japan as they celebrated 70 years since the end of World War II.” Yet she said the appointment as ambassador took her by surprise. “I know that I was not a likely choice. My strongest qualifications were that I was close to the president, and that I had a well-known name. But it turned out that those are the qualities that the Japanese most valued.”
Kennedy said that unlike most ambassadors, “I had an outpouring of public curiosity and good will from the normally reserved Japanese people. That confirmed my hunch that my gender and my name would allow me to connect with them in ways that for other ambassadors would have taken longer. I realized that in that male-dominated society, half the population had never felt there was an ambassador for them.”