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From Roxbury to Dakar

A former ambassador reflects on the diplomatic life.

In her new memoir, Diversifying Diplomacy: My Journey from Roxbury to Dakar, Harriet Elam-Thomas ’63, ’00HD recounts her path to and through a four-decade foreign service career that included postings in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Along the way, the former U.S. Ambassador to Senegal (2000-2002) shares insights, anecdotes, and lessons learned.

“I know that listening is the most effective approach to meaningful dialogue in any setting,” Elam-Thomas writes. “Listening is an art…. It is called respect. It is called appreciation. It is called anticipation. And it is called leadership.”

Milton Coleman, retired senior editor of The Washington Post, calls Elam-Thomas’ book, “The timely narrative of an African American woman weaned in black Boston on family pride and ambition, liberated through education, inspired by civil rights battles, and mentored to the top by fellow travelers and battle-scarred elders.”

Elam-Thomas retired from the U.S. State Department in 2005. She now directs diplomacy studies at the University of Central Florida, Orlando.

“The Simmons educational experience truly changed my life,” Elam-Thomas said in an interview with the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. She returned to Simmons this April to speak at the Black Alumnae/i Symposium.

During her student days, financial assistance enabled Elam-Thomas to spend a summer in Lyon, France, through the Experiment in International Living. She has said the experience “sparked my desire to live and work abroad.”

Fittingly, friends and family established The Harriet Elam-Thomas Study Abroad Fund at Simmons in her honor. It helps students pursue opportunities like the one she had in France.

Simmons awarded Elam-Thomas an honorary degree in 2000, and she was the 1998 recipient of the Simmons Lifetime Alumnae Achievement Award.