To Host a King

On Monday, September 22, 2014, His Majesty the King of Spain began his first official visit to the United States since his proclamation to the throne in June. We were honored and thrilled King Felipe selected the Institute of International Education (IIE) to be his first U.S. public appearance to speak with a select audience, including many U.S. and Spanish students and alumni from the U.S. Department of State’s Fulbright Program. The event focused on academic exchange and collaboration between Spain and the United States and the critical role of international education in addressing world challenges.

His Majesty’s visit was important and meaningful to IIE and the broader exchange community for many reasons.

Not only did his speech reinforce the importance of our longstanding bilateral educational relations, it also encouraged hope and confidence in our common future.

Saying that Spain and the United States share the same values of democracy, liberty, and fundamental freedoms, King Felipe commented that the Department of State’s Fulbright Program embodies these convictions and helps build a more democratic, secure, and prosperous world that benefits us all.

Annie Chor, who studied on a Fulbright in Spain in 2012-2013, and Diego Benguria, a current Fulbright student studying business at Columbia University, also made short introductory remarks and reiterated His Majesty’s vision and appreciation for their international experience.

Annie Chor: “Through my study abroad, I gained not only a greater understanding of the language and culture [of Spain] but also acquired a life-long curiosity to deepen my global perspective.”

Diego: “As Fulbright Students and Scholars, we are very proud of being part of this family, but we are also aware of our responsibility to strengthen our country’s relationship with the United Sates. We will carry this mission not only during the time we will spend in this country, but also for the rest of our lives.”

King Felipe undertook his own international academic experience at Georgetown University where he earned a Master of Science in Foreign Service degree in 1995 and was named as an Honorary Fulbright Student.

While the speeches were impressive and motivational, this event also helped fostered international cooperation on a completely different level.

With less than two weeks’ notice from the Royal Household in Spain that King Felipe wished to host his inaugural U.S. speech at the Institute, our team members at the Institute also immediately began the ambitious, behind-the-scenes tasks required to prepare for His Majesty’s visit.

The initial planning process began with a phone call between myself and King Felipe’s Chief of Protocol in Madrid. Working virtually and across borders and languages, a relationship of confidence and excitement began to bloom as we implemented the logistics for the event. The Chief of Protocol in Spain would manage the specific needs to arrange the King’s official U.S. visit, while IIE would be responsible to prepare the venue and invite additional speakers, Fulbrighters and select guests to fill the room to its capacity.

Working cross-divisionally within IIE, we identified an audience of leaders and stakeholders in international education. Since it was the week of the UN General Assembly and Clinton Global Initiative, many leading business executives, diplomats, philanthropists, educators and socially prominent private and public sector leaders were already in town. We were also amazed by the impressive group of over 75 U.S./Spain Fulbrighters that are based in the New York tri-state area! It was not long until we had secured a guest list of 110 participants, plus 20 members of the international press.

The Friday before King Felipe’s arrival in the United States, the Chief of Protocol arranged a visit at IIE for over twenty members of the Royal Household’s press, protocol, and security advance team members for a walk-through of the venue. We continued through the weekend with a busy string of planning to make sure all of the details were perfect.

At 5:00 AM on Monday, September 22, 2014, the IIE team and King’s advance team arrived at the Institute for the final preparations.

His Majesty arrived promptly at 10:00 AM and graced our audience with an important set of remarks that all in the room will remember for years to come:

“The 21st century is the century of knowledge, of culture, of education. We ought to rise and meet the new challenges to our coexistence; we must all play a part. As we work to further our bi-lateral exchange programs between Spain and the U.S., together we are working to develop the next generation of global leaders; laying the foundation for a future brightened with global citizens, who know each other, know the world and fight for peace. All of you here provide a clear demonstration of this truth. Let us help each other in this endeavor.”

Alexandra Lowe Lees, is Senior Development Officer, Fundraising, Events and IIE Initiatives.