March 28, 2016
St. Mary’s University alumna Ariel Vaagen (M.S. ’06), Deputy Director of the Office of International Media Engagement for the U.S. Department of State, was keynote speaker at the 15th annual Fall Commencement in December.
Her advice to graduates was simple: “Stay smart, give back, and pursue your happiness.”
Vaagen is a Foreign Service Officer who has worked in public affairs and media operations on global issues including Iran nuclear negotiations, Russia and Ukraine diplomacy, the Ebola crisis, and violent extremism. She spoke about her passion for serving her country to advance understanding, tolerance, respect and shared prosperity at home and abroad.
As an undergraduate, Vaagen attended Stanford University, where she was a scholarship gymnast and Biology student. Her career path turned to international relations after she spent a summer teaching gymnastics in the West Bank. After graduating, she earned the Haas Public Service Fellowship to return to Israel, where she mentored and interviewed participants in a peace camp for Israeli and Palestinian youth.
She joined the Army in 2000 and earned her master’s degree in International Relations from St. Mary’s in 2006, while stationed at Fort Hood. After serving, she joined the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop tactical communications technology for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Her favorite moments as a diplomat include talking with journalists about hot topics, traveling with the Secretary of State to 10 countries in 12 days, issuing a visa to a newly adopted child and telling London schoolchildren about her civil rights heroes, she said.