From the time we are little we are told, "Do what makes you happy in
life." We must then discover our unique interests, set goals and chart
our own course. Sometimes, that course leads to an acceptance from a top
tier college. Other times, it carries us across the ocean on the
adventure of a lifetime. For Damian Bednarz, pursuit of his passion for
government has led him to receive one of Poland's highest honors.
Bednarz was awarded the Gold Cross of Merit from the Republic of
Poland last July. He received the award for his work in strengthening
relations between the U.S. and Poland, and for improving energy
cooperation between the two countries. His efforts included work on
renewal energy, nuclear power cooperation, and overall energy security
issues. When he was notified about the award, Bednarz was surprised. "I
couldn't believe it," he said, "I was in shock for an entire day. My
mom was just as excited and extremely proud of me."
Bednarz arrived in the United States at three months old when his
parents were seeking political asylum after leaving Poland. He grew up
in a Polish household in New Jersey, and from a young age, his culture
was always very important to him. He knew the risk his parents had
taken to start a new life in the U.S., and so, when he graduated high
school, he seized the opportunity to attend Marist College in upstate
New York. Upon the completion of his bachelor's degree in Political
Science, Bednarz was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to conduct research
on Polish political parties and promptly relocated to Warsaw, Poland.
During his time in Poland, Bednarz interviewed journalists, members
of parliament and academia for his research. He gained hands-on
professional experience by working with U.S. Embassy officials, and
throughout the course of his Fulbright Scholarship, he developed a
strong understanding of how government works, from the ground up. This
experience inspired Bednarz to pursue a career in public service.
To help him further develop his skills and achieve his new
professional goal, Bednarz turned to U.S. universities with well known
graduate programs in diplomacy and international relations. He applied
to Georgetown University, Tufts University, American University and
Seton Hall University. Seton Hall quickly became a strong front runner
because of its small classroom settings and close proximity to New York
City, as well as Bednarz’s family and friends. So, in 2005, Bednarz
enrolled in the Whitehead School and began pursuing his master's degree
in Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University.
Seton Hall provided the ideal environment for Bednarz to think
critically, write analytically and forge professional relationships. He
recalls an international study seminar he took on Cyprus that culminated
in a visit to the country for briefings with local officials and
non-governmental organizations. Bednarz relished the opportunity, and
reflects, "I learned through Seton Hall, that one of the greatest
professional skills you can acquire is the ability to know when to talk
and when to listen. Communication is one of the main pillars of
diplomacy; it helps unite both people and nations."
Immediately following his graduation from Seton Hall in May 2007,
Bednarz joined Barack Obama's campaign staff. Little did he know that in
May 2009, his work would ultimately earn him a role in the 44th
President of the United States' administration. From that point on,
Bednarz began applying the skills he developed through his experiences
at Seton Hall and as a Fulbright Scholar to his work as Special
Assistant in the Office of Policy and International Affairs at the U.S.
Department of Energy. In this capacity, he focused on regional issues,
trade and transportation policy. One year ago, Bednarz accepted a
promotion to White House Liaison, which will allow him to focus on
political appointees and organizational planning. "It's been an amazing
experience," Bednarz comments, "and I continue to learn something new
To learn more about the members of the Whitehead Alumni Association,
and to request information on the Whitehead School's programs of study
for graduate and undergraduate students, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.shu.edu/academics/diplomacy/.
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