Though alumnus Ryan Crocker ’71 retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in 2009, it was a short-lived retirement. He has been called to service again as an ambassador to meet the challenge that is the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously confirmed his nomination in late June, marking Crocker’s sixth such appointment. Over a 38-year career, Crocker served as ambassador to Iraq, Pakistan, Kuwait, Lebanon and Syria. And now, Afghanistan.

During his brief retirement, he fulfilled a long-held desire to serve his alma mater and was elected to the Board of Trustees, a post he now has had to vacate to serve as a U.S. ambassador.

“We are sorry to lose Ryan’s active participation as a trustee, yet we are immensely proud and gratified to see him continue ably serving our nation, said Peter van Oppen ’74, board chair. “It is difficult to imagine a more challenging assignment, nor an individual in whom we have greater confidence to serve with distinction.”

Crocker assumes the post at a time when President Barack Obama is executing a plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. According to a report in The National Journal, Crocker is “credited along with Gen. David Petraeus with helping turn around the war in Iraq,” and “he reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kabul after the fall of the Taliban.”

And Crocker often credits Whitman College for setting him on a path that he says “did so much to shape my life and career.

“The greatest thing about a liberal arts education is that it teaches you how to think,” he said. “The Whitman faculty has always been dedicated to that purpose.”

Crocker said studying literature, for example, was an effective tool in understanding and relating to the world, to foreign cultures. “Literature is the window into how people feel,” he said. “No nation or people or culture can be understood simply by the pure facts of their history. It’s how they feel, as well as what they’ve done that makes them what they are.”

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