Susan Page, a 1982 alumna of Homewood-Flossmoor High School, told students the future is theirs ― whether that means knowing the path to take or creating it.
Addressing students at the National Honor Society induction program at H-F on April 24, the former United States ambassador to South Sudan told students: “I urge all of you to be creative and make the world what you want it to be. If you don’t find something that exists and you want it, make it.
“Be a role model like you yourself had. Or become the mentor to someone else that you wished you’d had,” Page said. “Reinvent yourself as an active person in the world around you. Don’t be put off by those who tell you (that) you can’t do something.
“Be ethical, be proud, get involved,” she urged them. “Be all that you can be, and give the ‘best you’ to everyone you meet.”
Page has always strived at being the best. She remembers all eyes being on her and her brother, H. David Page of Homewood, as the first black students at Western Avenue School.
She jokes about being “a planner.” She always set goals for herself.
Page’s first stop was the University of Michigan. Her next stop was Harvard Law School, earning a degree in public international law. She completed a fellowship in Nepal and joined the United States Department of State in 1991 to fulfill her dream of doing international law.
She heard the critiques that she’d been hired in 1991 to meet affirmative action goals and worked to prove she was capable. She served on the State’s Department’s recruitment committee, making it a point to find and mentor minority attorneys.
Her job took her to Africa in 1993. She worked on the continent in various capacities the next 20 years, including U.S. charge d’affaires to the African Union; acting permanent representative to the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa; senior advisor in the Office of the U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan; and deputy assistant secretary for African Affairs, covering central Africa, southern Africa and Sudan.
From 2002 to 2005, Page was legal adviser to the United Nations Secretary for Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) for Peace in Sudan and headed the U.N. Peacekeeping Mission for Sudan’s Rule of Law and Corrections Advisory Unit in Khartoum, Sudan.
She was part of various attempts to quell the impending civil war, but the country split in two and residents of South Sudan voted overwhelmingly for independence in 2011.
Knowing the major players in the region from her work on the comprehensive peace agreement, Page submitted her résumé to become the U.S. ambassador to South Sudan, and said, “I was lucky enough to make it through.”
She won U.S. Senate confirmation and moved to South Sudan in 2011.
“The hardest part was I couldn’t take my family with me,” she said, leaving her husband and son behind in Maryland.
Page is saddened that South Sudan hasn’t managed to bring peace to its people. She served as ambassador from 2011 until August 2014. In December 2013, she had to evacuate the embassy staff because violence broke into a full-fledged war.
“We were listening to shelling and bombardments going on all around us. It was really, really tough and it became very much targeted toward certain ethnic communities that were perceived to be against the president and the conflict has just continued,” she said.
Thousands of South Sudanese are living in terrible conditions in refugee camps. Others are living in swamps and “in the bush because the violence just continues, and unfortunately they’re killing their own people,” she noted.
Page ended her State Department career in November 2016. Today she is the second deputy of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. Her task is to assist with “rule of law” projects, including work with Haiti’s police, judicial systems and the jails. She also focuses on pretrial detentions and reducing community violence.
She recalls that her mother, Maurice Fitts Page of Flossmoor, couldn’t understand why, as a Harvard graduate, she didn’t want to work at a law firm earning a top salary.
“I didn’t want to make a lot of money at what I saw was a boring law firm,” she told the H-F students. “I knew international law and living abroad was what I wanted to do.”
Her newest assignment is again allowing her to work on international issues, her passion for so many years.