The Colors of Diplomacy

By Beth Dolinar

When I reflect back on the three days Luminari’s “I Want to be an Ambassador” camp spent in Washington, D.C. , I see colors—the bright colors of culture and diplomacy and learning and fun.

It was a busy three days in June for our 14 young ambassadors. While in the nation’s capital, we enjoyed a whirlwind of activities designed to broaden our minds, encourage innovation and understand how the world of diplomacy works.

The colors were vibrant in the lobby of the State Department that first day. Dozens of flags hung above our heads, announcing the many nations of the world and reflecting their bright hues on the polished marble floor. Our young ambassadors played an impressive game of “Guess the Country.” Peru, anyone? And is that the Cuban flag?

In a conference room down the hall, we met with Peter Selfridge, the Ambassador for Protocol for President Obama. His is a job of details—of paving the way for productive, respectful meetings between the President, the Secretary of State and other U.S. diplomats, and representatives from other countries.

“I never thought I would be in charge of so many details,” Selfridge said. Those details include understanding the customs of other cultures, knowing what gifts the President should bring on his visits—and what gifts not to bring. He explained that his staff is in charge of rolling out the red carpet, literally, for President Obama when he visits a foreign country, and of rolling it out when foreign dignitaries visit here.

The small details can mean the difference between a productive diplomatic meeting and one that is less so, he said.

The trip brought other bursts of color, from the ornate décor at the Royal Thai Embassy, to the plates of chicken tagine, hummus and paella we shared at our Moroccan dinner.

We had lunch at Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown, a favorite haunt of presidents, senators, congressmen and Supreme Court justices. Four of our ambassadors ate hamburgers in the exact booth where then-Senator John F. Kennedy proposed marriage to Jacqueline Bouvier.

At the German Embassy, a military diplomat talked about how much he and his young family love living in the United States. The meeting was just days before voters in Great Britain voted to leave the European Union, a development the diplomat was hoping would not happen. He shared little bags of authentic German gummi bear candies, which we gobbled happily, feeling we deserved them. The meeting was on the 7th floor, and we did not take an elevator to get there.

As we said goodbye, we paused to look at the piece of the Berlin Wall on display. The bit of stone was covered in a riot of colorful graffiti, a reminder of a historically remarkable victory of diplomacy.

And yes, that was the blue, white and red flag of Cuba hanging at the State Department. It was another reminder of the importance of diplomacy, both on the large scale and for the rest of us in our everyday lives. 


Luminari Coordinator, Beth Dolinar brings her talents and experience as a writer, Emmy-award producer, public speaker and deadline driven multi-tasker to our team. She writes a popular column for the Washington “Observer-Reporter.” She is a contributing producer of documentary length programming for WQED-TV on a wide range of topics and currently teaches as an adjunct faculty member at Robert Morris University. Beth has a son and a daughter. She is an avid yoga devotee, cyclist and reader. Beth says she types like lightning but reads slowly — because she likes a really good sentence.