‘Shaping the World for the Better’

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink ’91 delivered a keynote address during Bicentennial Reunion Weekend about the war in Ukraine and how her liberal arts education prepared her to serve on the front lines of democracy.

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink ’91 (right) with Kenyon President Julie Kornfeld.

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink ’91 (right) with Kenyon President Julie Kornfeld. Photography by James DeCamp.

It’s nearly 5,000 miles from Kyiv to Kenyon, but nothing could keep U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink ’91 from reaching her alma mater for Bicentennial Reunion Weekend

The Michigan native, who took a 12-hour train ride and multiple flights to make it to Gambier, addressed a packed Rosse Hall Saturday, May 25, and received the Humanitarian Service Award from Alumni Council.

Brink, who graduated from the College with a degree in political science, was nominated to her post by President Joe Biden in April 2022 — just two months after Russia invaded Ukraine — and confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate. She spoke about how her experiences at Kenyon shaped her future in public service.

“As I look back on my career as a diplomat, including my current assignment as ambassador on the front lines of democracy, I can see how my liberal arts education prepared me for the enormous challenges that I would face,” she said. 

“For me,” Brink continued later, “that has perhaps been the greatest gift of a Kenyon education — the ability to think critically and then act decisively in the interest of shaping the world for the better.”

A tireless advocate for the people of Ukraine, Brink holds master’s degrees in international relations and political theory from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Slovak Republic and had posts in Serbia, Uzbekistan and Georgia. 

She shared with the audience some of the darker moments from her career, including witnessing war crimes committed in the late 1990s in the former Yugoslavia. She said her Kenyon education gave her the skills to see evil in the world and do something about it.

“Those classroom years built the strength to think and work your way through moments when bad things happen,” she said. “And this is what is important: to act and lead with your values and ultimately use all those critical thinking skills to do the right thing.”

Brink’s remarks at Kenyon were sponsored by the Center for the Study of American Democracy and followed by a discussion with Joseph Klesner, who directs the center and is a professor of political science and international studies — and who taught Brink comparative politics during her time on the Hill.

She reminisced in her address about other influential faculty, too, from her time in Gambier — Peter Ahrensdorf, Juan De Pascuale, Harry Clor, Fred Baumann, Roy Wortman — who made the idea of justice and other important topics come alive. 

“My early diplomatic experience kindled in me a resolve to do what I could to prevent conflict, expand freedom and promote human rights in countries and regions which I would serve, but my passion for these ideas took shape during my own education and, to a very considerable extent, during my time at Kenyon,” she said.

While Brink discussed the strategic and historical implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she lingered on the human toll and how the citizens of Ukraine have struggled for decades to advance freedom and shed post-Soviet-era corruption.

“Whether it's defending a nation or educating the next generation, people matter,” she said. “Human agency is a learned skill, in my experience. It's transferred by example from one generation to the next.”

Making sure that continues in Ukraine despite Russian aggression is of the utmost importance, she said, and warrants America’s continuing support.

“Ukraine's determination to write the future of their own nation is why so many people around the world have been inspired by their fight, including so many Americans,” Brink said.

“Our nation knows the price of freedom,” she continued later, “and we have always been willing to take a stand against injustice in the world."

Experience Brink's Powerful Speech

Ambassador Brink's engaging and personal speech addressed the war in Ukraine and how her liberal arts education prepared her to serve on the front lines of democracy.