Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda
For Jessye Lapenn, Class of 1989, an interest in making the world a better place started early in life. She started Chapin's Amnesty International Club in 1987, she said, to great support from the Chapin community. "A commitment to service is very much a Chapin value," Ms. Lapenn said. "And it is one that has grown at the School."
Ms. Lapenn added that Chapin's supportive environment drove her to take risks throughout her college years at Harvard, graduate years at Cambridge in England and into her post-graduate career with the U.S. State Department. "At Chapin, risk is a good thing. You take risks for a purpose, not as goals on their own, but as being worthwhile for service or for a greater good. My own career has been very much about taking risks," she said.
In her work as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, for the past four years, Ms. Lapenn described having to think about how she could help the different U.S. agencies in Rwanda work together. She cited her willingness to take risks in that work as being an action that also provided professional growth. This summer, Ms. Lapenn will return to Africa to be the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in South Africa, a significant challenge given the range and scale of U.S. interests in that country.
Throughout the twenty-one years that Ms. Lapenn has been a Foreign Service Officer, she says that she has been most interested in contributing to the greater good in terms of impact. She asks herself: "How can I personally impact the world? How can I get things done? Sometimes it's making good things happen and sometimes it's preventing bad things, such as atrocities or conflict, from happening."
A "freewriting" exercise given by Mrs. Putnam at Chapin stuck with Ms. Lapenn. "Now [freewriting] is more common," she said. "At the time, it seemed unusual, creative and challenging. When you just sit down and write, you free your mind in a valuable way."
When asked what advice she would give to young alumnae when approaching considering their own careers, Ms. Lapenn said: "It's absolutely important to take risks. Does a particular opportunity speak to you? Do you feel like you'll be proud of yourself? When people are young, they have much more flexibility and there's a lot more room for taking risks." She added, "I want to continue to do work that my son can be proud of."
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