US Consul General, Ken Toko – 30 Years of Cooperation with LIS

Thank you for the warm welcome. Thank you, Brandie Smith, Foundation Board members, and the LIS community for inviting me. It’s great to see so many staff, parents, alumni, students, and supporters of LIS here tonight, including representatives from the city government. It’s an honor and pleasure to be here to join you in celebrating the 30th anniversary of LIS. This is a huge milestone, and I’d first like to congratulate the school and everyone who contributed to the growth and success of the school over the past 30 years.

I’m here tonight in my professional capacity as the United States Consul General, but I’m also a parent of three current students (formerly four, but my oldest graduated last year). From my personal and professional experience with the school over the past 2.5 years, I can say the school is fulfilling its mission of creating an “inclusive learning community” and empowering and inspiring young people to make a meaningful impact in the world.

It’s really impressive how much the school has grown and evolved over the past 30 years. One of my predecessors, Todd Becker, the former U.S. Consul General who re-opened the U.S. Consulate in Leipzig in 1992, was actually one of the co-founders of LIS. I had a chance to speak with Todd Becker recently, and he asked me to convey his warmest congratulations and best wishes to everyone here. He also asked that you join him in (quote) “remembering and thanking particularly those dedicated co-founders Frau Ursula Lehmann-Grube, Frau Elke Urban and Christopher Smith who 30 years ago sat with me in a darkened room, hunched down on kindergartners’ chairs, in a bare, unheated room and decided against all odds that this school, the Leipzig International School, was a dream which demanded our full dedication.” (end quote).

Todd said his goal was to create an international school to help rebuild Leipzig’s cultural and commercial standing on the international stage. And certainly, the evolution of LIS mirrors the evolution and development of the city of Leipzig over the past 30 years. Leipzig is now a booming city, cosmopolitan, diverse, with many foreign companies, foreign students, and a bright future. I think LIS has been one of the key factors driving that growth. LIS makes Leipzig more attractive to foreign companies and foreign nationals. I can say that from my own personal experience – even with all the wonderful things Leipzig has to offer, it would’ve been very difficult if not impossible for me to move here with my family had there not been a good international school here. And that’s the bottom line – I might not be here today in Leipzig with my family if LIS did not exist.

So I see LIS as an asset for the city and this region. And it’s an asset not only because it helps to draw in people from around the world, but also because the school is nurturing and fostering the next generation of internationally-minded German students. That’s one of the things I appreciate about LIS – the mix of international and German students. It’s hard to believe how a school that started with only one teacher and three students now boasts over 1000 students from 77 nationalities. The diversity of the student body is incredible, and that experience of learning and growing in a diverse environment will shape these students and become part of their DNA as they grow up and they venture out into the world, and as they become global citizens.

I’m sure the school has had a lot of ups and downs and many challenges over the years, and the challenges will continue. And I think the school leadership will be the first to tell you that not everything is perfect, that there are areas for improvement. But let’s not lose sight of the big picture here. Let’s take this moment to reflect on how far the school has come, and what it’s done and continues to do for our kids.

For those of you with teenage kids, you can probably relate to my frustrations when I try to ask my kids how their day went, how things are going at school. I usually get a one or two word response: some variation of “Good”, “Fine,” “It’s ok”. Although they might not tell me in so many words, I can tell from their faces, from their expressions, how much they enjoy school. And occasionally, they’ll talk to me about their friends, or their favorite classes, or how well they did on a test. And their faces brighten up when they talk about these things.   

And that’s really what it’s all about. Creating a positive environment, a safe place to learn, a place where everyone can feel comfortable and welcomed no matter their background, where they come from or how they look, where everyone’s uniqueness is valued and where everyone is encouraged to express their thoughts and challenge their limits. And I think that’s what LIS offers.  

Finally, I’d like to just say that we at the U.S. Consulate will continue to support LIS and continue to look for areas of cooperation. We’ve been great partners from the beginning 30 years ago, and I look forward to the next 30 years of our partnership and friendship.  Thank you.

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