In true diplomatic style, Les McBee turned a UC Davis ceremony for him into an opportunity to praise the university for its commitment to making the world a better place.
Speaking at the Internship and Career Center on April 12, he commended the "call-to-service mentality" that he sees in UC Davis students, describing them as "genuinely interested in making a contribution."
Diplomacy is McBee's forte, with 28 years in the U.S. foreign service. Two years ago he became the State Department's diplomat in residence at UC Berkeley, and one year ago he began holding office hours at UC Davis one day a week.
"Les has become an invaluable member of the Internship and Career Center, particularly in this global market," said Ken Barnes, a coordinator at the center. He said McBee has advised more than 300 UC Davis students interested in diplomatic work.
Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef joined the Internship and Career Center and its director, chemical engineering and materials science professor Subhash Risbud, in honoring McBee for his efforts on the Davis campus.
"You're based at UC Berkeley, but you'd hardly know it," said Vanderhoef, noting the line of students often seen waiting outside McBee's office.
The ceremony came as McBee prepares for reassignment come fall to Washington, D.C., and probably overseas after that. Barnes said Anne O'Leary will replace McBee as diplomat in residence.
McBee last worked abroad as consul-general for the south of France, as well as for Corsica and Monaco in the same region. Prior to that, he served in embassies or consulates in Italy, Congo-Brazzaville and Congo-Kinshasa, Finland and Fiji.
Barnes said the diplomat in residence program is invaluable. "When students come to me, they ask how they can obtain a job," he said. "When they come to Les, they ask him about his job."
With McBee's assistance, Barnes said, UC Davis has contributed five civil service employees and 46 foreign service officers.
Vanderhoef said UC Davis' future will be even more global in scope, because of "complex problems that extend far beyond individual borders."
McBee named a few of those "transnational" issues: genetic engineering, global warming, bird flu, and human immunodeficiency virus and AIDS.
He spoke of the need for the United States and its diplomatic corps to work "shoulder-to-shoulder" on these issues with friends and allies, and "even people who don't like us much."
"The core function of diplomacy is relationships: maintaining, creating and, yes, when necessary, repairing those relationships that are the worse for wear."
State Department diplomats, McBee said, should be able to clearly and convincingly present American policies, and be equally adept at listening between the lines, hearing what a foreign counterpart means by what he or she is saying.
"Respect and humility are two essential items found in every good diplomat's tool kit."