By Mohammad Faslan
OARSAW, Poland – Professor Patrick Mendis, who has traveled and worked in more than 130 countries, has been recognized for “having made truly extraordinary and widely accepted lifetime achievements around the world”, said Dr Dishan Jayasinha, President of the Sri Lanka Foundation in Los Angeles, California. It is the most respected and well-known institution that educates global citizens about Sri Lanka and builds bridges between the Sri Lankan Diaspora and the global community.
Professor Mendis was a US diplomat and a NATO military professor. He is a “renaissance man” who rose from a “mud house (in Sri Lanka) to the White House (in the United States) and then to international diplomacy”, as described by his mentor and friend. , Dr. Karunasena Kodituwakku – former Vice Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and Ambassador of Sri Lanka to China, Japan, South Korea and UNESCO.
Currently, Dr. Mendis is a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Transatlantic Relations at the University of Warsaw in Poland. During the spring semester, he taught a seminar on US-China relations and international organizations at the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies of the University of Warsaw, one of the largest and most renowned for European Union global affairs.
Committed to serve
Prior to becoming a naturalized US citizen, Professor Mendis represented the government of Sri Lanka as the first United Nations Youth Ambassador and was awarded the United Nations Medal for the International Year of Youth. He then worked at the World Bank.
His public and international service in the US government began on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under the Reagan White House. However, after earning his doctorate in geography and applied economics, he taught courses ranging from international relations, business management, and the United Nations system at the universities of Minnesota, Maryland, and Yale.
After leaving his academic career, he accepted a series of government appointments to the US Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy and State under the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. For his contributions, he has received numerous leadership and service awards. Mother Lanka is proud,” said Dr Jayasinha.
The life of a resident
Professor Mendis was born into a Buddhist-Catholic family on a three-acre rice farm, with water buffaloes, in Polonnaruwa, the medieval capital of Sri Lanka. During his formative years, Prof. Mendis was a Sri Lankan Boy Scout as he grew up with Catholic priests and Buddhist monks. Passionate about sports and martial arts, he served at a young age as a sergeant in the police cadet corps, became the best commander of the army cadet corps and won the UNESCO prize in national competitions. .
When Professor Mendis managed to win a highly selective American Field Service (AFS) scholarship sponsored by the US State Department, he came to the United States for a year of college study. As a teenager, he attended Perham High School in Minnesota, becoming the fastest runner and badminton champion. After graduating from American high school, he returned to Sri Lanka. He studied at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and graduated with an Honors degree in Business Administration and Economics. When the Civil War broke out, he was invited back to the United States and “adopted” by the people of Minnesota.
Professor Mendis has received numerous scholarships, including the Humphrey and Kennedy Fellowships, to study at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In Minnesota, he met his future mentors: the Honorable Edward Burdick, NATO Ambassador Harlan Cleveland and US Vice President Walter Mondale. Each of these legendary American leaders has enriched the life of the Sri Lankan resident.
The late NATO Ambassador Cleveland was a mentor and friend to Professor Mendis for more than a quarter of a century, including his two teaching tours with the NATO and Indo-Pacific Commands . After his assignment to the United States Department of Defense, he joined the United States Department of State, working under the late Secretaries Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell. The late Vice President Mondale recommended Professor Mendis to the Obama White House for nomination as United States National Commissioner to UNESCO. He served two terms under Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry until the Trump White House withdrew from the United Nations agency.
During his diplomatic service under the late Secretary Albright, Professor Mendis left a lasting legacy writing the International Science and Technology Agreement Handbook for the US Government. It is still used by American diplomats and scientists in American embassies around the world and throughout the federal government.
The late Secretary Powell appointed Professor Mendis to serve as Director of the Secretariat for the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, managing the Fulbright, Humphrey, Muskie, and other international exchange and cultural programs. The former AFS scholarship recipient has returned to lead the agency that funds and manages global educational and cultural programs for the US government. To recognize his leadership in public service, he received the Meritorious Honor Award, the UN Negotiation Award, and the Benjamin Franklin Award from the Department of State.
While in government service, Professor Mendis continued to teach at the USDA Graduate School and the US Foreign Service Institute, the two primary training institutions for diplomatic and civilian employees of federal, state and local governments.
When he was teaching economics classes at the USDA Graduate School, the Bush White House appointed Professor Mendis to serve on the board of the USDA Graduate School. For his contributions, the United States Department of Agriculture presented Professor Mendis with the USDA Graduate School’s Distinguished Service and Leadership Award. After his government service, Professor Mendis returned to academia. He was a visiting foreign policy scholar at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Service and vice president of the Osgood Center for International Studies. During his tenure at Johns Hopkins, he wrote two books: Trade for Peace and Commercial Providence.
He later served as Distinguished Senior Fellow and Affiliate Professor of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, teaching postgraduate courses, and authoring another book, peaceful war, on the historical development of relations between the United States and China. His latest book has been translated into Chinese. He continued his teaching career in China, lecturing at various national and provincial academies and universities, including Anhui, Fudan, Nanjing, Shandong, Tongji, Tsinghua, Wuhan, and Zhejiang. Most recently, he served as Distinguished Visiting Professor of China-US Relations at Peking University’s Yenching Academy. For his achievements, Prof. Mendis was awarded the International Confucius Prize at a special symposium at the National Confucius Research Institute in Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius in Shandong Province.
After leaving China, Professor Mendis continued his teaching as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Global Affairs at National Taiwan Chengchi University. He was also appointed Distinguished Visiting Professor of Culture and Diplomacy at Chinese Culture University in Taipei. To pursue his academic career, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China awarded him the prestigious Taiwan Scholarship. His contribution of a lifetime is linked to his two teaching tours in Europe and Asia as a military professor with NATO and Indo of the United States Department of Defense. – Pacific Commands. Professor Mendis has taught US servicemen at all major US military bases in England, Germany, Italy, Japan, Turkey, Spain and South Korea for which he received the Stanley Teaching Excellence Award J. Drazek of the University of Maryland, the sponsor. from the program.
Philanthropist at heart
Professor Mendis has created a variety of scholarships and awards to help the next generation of leaders in Sri Lanka and the United States. His philanthropic activities reflect his life journey from Sri Lanka to the United States and beyond. of the Sarvodaya movement, the largest humanitarian and spiritual organization in Sri Lanka. The University of Sri Jayewardenepura has established the annual Dr. Patrick Mendis Award, which is awarded to students for outstanding academic performance and leadership in extracurricular activities. After the tragic tsunami, he funded more than 15 tsunami scholarships to the Buddhist Temple and the Catholic Church in Polonnaruwa.
In the United States, Professor Mendis established the Johnson-Mendis Scholarship at Minnesota State College for high school students in memory of his American AFS family. To honor his mentor and friend in the Minnesota House of Representatives, he established the annual Edward Burdick Legislative Award for graduate students of the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. To support journalism and international relations students, the Kennedy School alum established the Millennials Award for Leadership and Service at Harvard University.
“In the circle of life, the greatest achievement for me is to give everything I have; only then do I have the chance to receive,” Prof Mendis said. Her philosophy of life seems to resonate with her hybrid cultural upbringing with Buddhist ethics and Christian morals while growing up in Sri Lanka and Minnesota.
In all of this, Professor Mendis is indeed a quintessential Minnesotan – generous and hardworking – who pursued the American dream. “His background is relevant, from a mud house with water buffaloes in Sri Lanka to working with the United Nations, the World Bank and the US government,” summarized Professor Brian Atwood, former Dean of the Humphrey School of Public. Foreign Affairs and Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development under President Bill Clinton.
(The author is a lecturer in political science at the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka. He is currently pursuing his doctorate in political science and international studies at the University of Warsaw in Poland.)