At 24 years old – just four years after donning a cap and gown at the University of Mary Washington – Clifford Hart ‘80 moved halfway around the world. He left his home state of Virginia, where he had attended Mary Washington, then the University of Virginia for graduate school, to take a post in China with the Foreign Service.
“It was a treat from beginning to end,” Hart said of his first assignment. “It was a fascinating time to be there.”
Hart, now Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks for the denuclearization of North Korea, spoke with students about his decades-long career in the Foreign Service during a recent trip to his alma mater.
“The Foreign Service is a deeply stimulating intellectual exercise,” he said. “You are constantly learning.”
As an envoy, Ambassador Hart coordinates U.S. efforts on the Six-Party Talks and leads day-to-day engagement with Six-Party partners.
“It has been an occasion for me to learn a lot about a really critical part of our foreign policy,” Hart said.
In his 30-year career, Hart has held posts in numerous countries, including China, Taiwan, Iraq and the Soviet Union, and has served in senior positions at the State Department, the White House and the Pentagon.
He credits Mary Washington with providing a quality liberal arts education that has served as a foundation for his career.
“As a diplomat, you need to draw in the broadest intellectual framework you can,” he said.
Hart faults himself for not taking advantage of the full range of liberal arts studies while at Mary Washington, where he heavily concentrated in international relations and political science to Russian and economics. He nonetheless recalls his education with gratitude and pleasure.
“On a personal level, I was able to establish close relationships with faculty,” Hart said. “I still benefit daily from [John Kramer’s] instruction 33 years ago.”
Kramer, distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Political Science and International Affairs, taught Hart in several international relations classes.
“Ambassador Hart was one of the singular best students I have had the privilege of teaching in my 42 years at Mary Washington – and that is saying something because I have had so many wonderful students during my tenure here,” Kramer said. “Of course, it was obvious he had the superior intelligence to excel, but what really impressed me was how even as an undergraduate, he possessed those skills that UMW promotes as foundational qualities of liberal learning: outstanding written and oral communication capacities, well-honed analytical skills and facility in foreign languages, in his case, both Russian and Cantonese.”
For Will Kyle ’13, the opportunity to talk to Hart was invaluable.
“Meeting with Ambassador Hart was such an enlightening and enriching academic opportunity and personal experience,” he said.
Kyle, an international affairs major, said his conversations with Hart yielded critical research for his senior honors thesis on current foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region.
“In my eyes, the experience just goes to show all of the opportunities available to students here at Mary Washington upon graduation from our rigorous, well-run academic programs,” Kyle said. “After meeting with Ambassador Hart, I am more inspired than ever to use my degree to best serve this great country that we live in.”