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April 19, 2024

Ambassador Jess Baily ’78 brings a global perspective to multi-day visit to SPS.


The Honorable Jess Baily ’78, a career Foreign Service Officer whose 35 years of diplomatic experience includes having served as U.S. ambassador to North Macedonia, was in Millville April 16 and 18 to offer his perspective on current events and share some advice on navigating an increasingly complicated and global world.

In a community-wide conversation co-moderated by students Rhys Henrikson ’26 and Isa Martinez ’24, Baily engaged students on developments in American foreign policy; his experiences as ambassador during the ratification of the Prespa Agreement, which led to North Macedonia’s ascension to NATO; and more. During a chapel talk, after cataloguing issues from humanitarian crises in Gaza, Ukraine and elsewhere to the threats of climate change and the rise of artificial intelligence that he recognized weigh on SPS students as much as they do on him, Baily said, “You’re right to be concerned, and even anxious, but don’t be consumed by it… First, take a deep breath. That always starts you off on a good path. And then pause, and reflect, and understand the challenge at hand. Understand context. And then, crucially, embrace optimism as your modus operandi, with a clear understanding of powers and limitations.”

Ambassador Jess Baily ’78 speaking to SPS community
Baily responds to questions posed by student moderators Rhys Henrikson ’26 and Isa Martinez ’24.

Invoking his training as a historian, Baily then discussed the national and global events that had been the backdrop for his time at SPS in the 1970s — Watergate, the Cold War — end encouraged students to use that as a model for placing current events in a broader context. “But don’t just stop at understanding context,” he said. “As a retired ambassador once told me, don’t just admire problems. Move from the frozen state of despair and adopt optimism as an operating principle. And by optimism … I mean a belief that propels us to work and to seize the power and resources in our possession and address the challenges, even the hardest ones, with a small measure of confidence in progress if not full success.”

During his multi-day visit, Baily spoke in chapel twice, met with students over meals and was a guest in the Religion and Ethics class taught by the Rev. Charles Wynder Jr., SPS dean of chapel and spiritual life.