Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield Upon Accepting the UNFCU Foundation’s 2023 Women’s Empowerment Lifetime Achievement Award

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
New York, New York
October 11, 2023


Thank you so much, Pamela, and thank you so much, Jodi. Thank you for the kind words and for the tremendous honor. It always amazes me when I’m honored for something I do because I love it. And so, I don’t do it for the recognition. I don’t do it for the awards. I don’t do it for the honors. I do it for the people that I’m working with.

But more importantly, I want to thank all of you and the entire team at UNFCU that you ensure that women and youth can live up to their full potential. And hearing the young women today talk about what they have been able to achieve, bringing tears to all of our eyes. You are really a representation of what our future is.

When I was a young girl, I really didn’t understand my full potential. When I was asked a few minutes ago to think about what I would say to my young self, I had to think for a second. But what I thought about at that moment that I didn’t know back then was that I could do it.

I grew up in the segregated South, as you heard. I grew up in a town where the Klan regularly burned crosses – in a family that was full of love but short of money. And while I would like to tell you that I always dreamed of being a diplomat, the truth is as a kid I didn’t even know what a diplomat was or what the United Nations was or, you know, what ambitions were.

So how did I get here? While I’m now standing on this stage receiving this honor as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, of course there’s no simple answer to how you get here. Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, and you’ll have to wait for my autobiography. [Laughter and applause.]

But I know one thing is true: I would not be where I am today or who I am today had it not been for the women in my life. It starts with my mother, a woman who taught me to lead with the power of kindness and compassion – I’ll add respect to that, having heard that today. When I was growing up, my mom had not finished high school, but she pushed me to pursue my education and supported me so that I became the first in my family to go to college. And by the way, my mom went back to school later in life, some 19 years later, and received her GED. So, it is never, ever too late.

I’m also here today because of the example of many strong women leaders. Women like President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected female head of state in Africa and a dear personal friend. She was the first person to tell me to dream big. And I have quoted her on that on a regular basis. Madeleine Albright, who came to this country as a refugee fleeing Nazi invasion and communist oppression, and she rose to become the first female U.S. secretary of state. Madeleine defined strength, she commanded respect, and she paved the way for women who came after her, including me to be at the United Nations. But I also add to this list two other former female secretaries of state who were inspiring to me: Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton, who I was so pleased to do a program with last week at Columbia.

I am deeply aware of and humbled by the responsibility that now rests on my shoulders as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Every single day I make it my mission to fight for girls and women, to amplify their voices and to root out gender inequities. Because women’s rights are human rights – Hillary taught us that. Because the status of women is the status of democracy. Because when women and girls succeed, we all succeed.

So, this award that you’ve presented to me today is a reward that I also dedicate to all of the women and girls who do not yet recognize their potential. Women like me who didn’t know they could do it. And to those who are not yet free – not yet free to live up to their potential, like the women in Afghanistan. Let us continue to fight for them, to support them, to empower them.

Thank you so much for this. [Applause.]