SFS Alumni Cross Paths at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala

Monty McGhee, MSFS '12 and Ambassador Todd Robinson, F'85, at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, where they are both posted in the State Department Foreign Service.

Monty McGhee, MSFS ’12, and Ambassador Todd Robinson, SFS’85, at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, where they are both posted in the State Department Foreign Service.

February 23, 2015
by Ara Friedman
As a newly minted foreign service officer at his first posting at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, Monty McGee was excited to be tasked with writing the Ambassador’s remarks for the 238th Marine Corps Ball. While prepping for his meeting with Ambassador Todd Robinson, McGee discovered that Ambassador Robinson graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service (SFS) as an undergraduate in 1985, while McGee had graduated from the Master of Science in Foreign Service graduate program in the SFS in 2012.  “Our shared SFS background means a lot to me as I start my career in the Foreign Service,” McGee said.  “Seeing a fellow Hoya at the pinnacle of his career who is as excited, if not more, than I am is encouraging and inspiring!”

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McGee leads elementary school kids in Hokey Pokey dance as part of American Institute in Taiwan public outreach effort.

Ambassador Robinson was also pleased to meet a fellow Hoya.  “It’s always good to see another Hoya doing well,” he commented.  “Monty has a tremendous future ahead of him and I look forward to watching him get there.”  Robinson is no stranger to the interesting twists and turns a career in the Foreign Service involves.  He joined the Foreign Service almost 30 years ago and has had postings ranging from Spain, Albania and Vatican City to a variety of posts across Latin America.  “Being a Foreign Service Officer is great,” Robinson said.  “The ability to live and work in different countries around the world and represent our great nation around the world is an honor, a privilege, and a lot of fun.”

Using the SFS Education Abroad 
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Monty R. McGee with Andre S. McGlashan at MSFS graduation day in 2012.

While in MSFS, McGee learned to bring “foreign policy” down to a more personal level.  “I learned that foreign policy is not an abstract concept, but the daily successes and failures by people just like me who accept their responsibility as global citizens.  MSFS exposed me to men and women of diverse backgrounds who influenced foreign policy in tremendous ways.  The program placed these leaders within my reach and demanded that I engage with them as a colleague.”

McGee’s realizations came partially through the mentoring of two different individuals during his time at Georgetown.  “The first was my Global Studies professor Michael Wall, who from the first class made it clear to us that our opinions mattered because we were the future of international relations,” McGee said.  “[Wall] spent that semester challenging us in various ways to think about modern issues and their historical contexts.  My other mentor, Eleanor Monte Jones, was invaluable in helping me to adjust to the demanding program while encouraging me to reflect on the experiences that led me to Georgetown.”

Ambassador Robinson appreciates the way SFS broadened his perspective as an undergraduate.  “I think, more than anything else, SFS opened up the world of possibilities for me,” he said.  “The ability to interact and question the faculty members and visitors who were so influential in our foreign policy apparatus was important.  Figuring out how the inter-agency worked and why it works the way it does was fascinating.  I’m not sure I would’ve had that exposure so up close and personal anywhere else.”

Memories of two specific professors from Georgetown live on for Robinson as his 30th reunion approaches, “One professor that had a huge impact on me was Professor Mujal-Leon.  He really opened my eyes to international affairs, how to study it, and understand its significance.  On the more spiritual side, Father Reddington (Problem of God) was terrific. It was not your normal religious studies class and I really enjoyed it.”

Favorite Memories From Georgetown
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Ambassador Robinson in the West Bank in 2012.

Academic pursuits are not the only recollections Robinson has from his time as an undergraduate, his time with The Hoya, the Georgetown student newspaper, is treasured.  “I started out as a beat reporter on the Sports desk and ended up Editor-in-Chief for a semester my senior year,” Robinson remembered.  He credits Sarah McClendon, The Hoya’s non-faculty advisor, for “whett[ing] my appetite for journalism.”  McClendon was a former White House correspondent and Robinson and his fellow reporters enjoyed her input.  “We loved having her guide us,” he said. Robinson thinks of his time with The Hoya as some of his favorite memories from Georgetown. “What a blast.  I worked with great people.  We’ve lost touch over the years, but I still remember them and those times with real happiness.”

McGee’s favorite memory from Georgetown came from inside the classroom.  He recalled a project in the Force and Diplomacy module of his final year in MSFS, which was designed to sharpen analytical and problem solving skills.  “Each student was tasked to identify a current international conflict and offer three distinct recommendations,” McGee explained.  “I chose to present on re-engaging the Burmese military junta in a way that would support their move toward democracy.  One of my three recommendations was to send then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on a diplomatic mission as a show of good faith.  Two weeks after my presentation, the State Department announced that Secretary Clinton would travel to Burma.  I was amazed.”

“There’s Always Something Special  About Your First Assignment ”
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Ambassador Robinson at the Rwanda/Burundi border in 2011.

Robinson’s tours in conflict regions have provided him with ample opportunity to exercise these skills.  “I’ve spent time in a number of conflict areas,” Robinson said.  “Columbia in the late ‘80s, El Salvador in the early ‘90’s, the Balkans in the mid-90’s, and most recently as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) from 2011-2014.”

Although the State Department often categorizes conflict zones as “hardship posts,” Robinson has fond memories from some of these locales.  Bogota, Columbia made it on the list for both a conflict zone and a favorite posting. “There’s always something special about your first assignment and I’m still friends with many of the team we had there,” Robinson said.  Another highlight from his career was his stint in Washington, DC at the State Department Operations Center.  “The State Department Operations Center is a 24-hour crisis management office that literally monitors the world [and] is ready to react,” Robinson explained.  “Just thinking about my time there leaves me out of breath,” he said.

Guatemala is McGee’s first posting, and like Robinson’s time in Bogota, McGee has been assigned a position in Consular Affairs.  “I currently serve as Vice Consul in Guatemala City, Guatemala, where every consular interview is my opportunity to protect our borders and promote legitimate travel to the United States,” McGee said.  “Consular work is also a form of public diplomacy.  No other section in the Embassy engages with the quantity and cross-section of the population, therefore my daily interactions with Guatemalans shape their perceptions of the United States.”

Robinson’s tour in Barcelona as the Consul General from 2006-2009 was a favorite posting and allowed him to return to the kind of work that kicked off his career in the Foreign Service.  “I had the opportunity to ‘go back to my roots’ and do consular work again,” Robinson said.  “I had not really done it since my first assignment in Columbia and having a chance to do the important American Citizen Services work we do there, and interact with the huge number of U.S. travelers, who passed through was wonderful.”

Thinking To The Future
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Ambassador Robinson giving remarks at the Hispanic National Bar Association 36th Annual Convention in 2011.

Serving as a U.S. Ambassador makes Robinson “incredibly proud” but he is ultimately more concerned with his merits as a person.  “[My greatest achievement is] being a good son and brother, who also happens to be a U.S. Ambassador,” Robinson reflected.  He envisioned this life as a young high school junior who picked SFS because he thought it “would be the best place for me, academically, and in terms of what I wanted to do after university.”  Robinson advises current students who are intrigued by a career in the Foreign Service to read Ambassador William Burns’ Foreign Policy piece “10 Parting Thoughts for America’s Diplomats.”  Robinson calls the piece “brilliant,” recommending it “to any aspiring diplomats.  There are many role models out there in this profession, but he’s one to many of the newer diplomats can relate.”

McGee offered a tactical piece of advice to those future diplomats, “Take the exam.  Don’t wait.  While this career presents unique challenges, the benefits far outweigh them.”