What it takes to become an Ambassador

As high schoolers, we’ve all heard the question at least once: “What do you want to do when you grow up?” For several of us, there is no clear answer. We have all thought about being a doctor, a lawyer, an astronaut, or a ballerina. A lucky few might think they know exactly what they’ll be doing in the future. But for Ambassador of the United States to Singapore Kirk Wagar, it wasn’t that simple.

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Ambassador Kirk Wagar in the United States Embassy, photo by Hayden Reeves

“You have these ideas about what you’re going to be doing, and the reality is, none of them happened the way I thought,” Wagar said. “In my little town, it was mostly doctors and lawyers. I’m pretty squeamish… so law just seemed like an opportunity to do something no one in my family had ever done.”

Wagar received his degree in law at the University of Miami, and eventually started his own law firm, Wagar Law. At this point in his life, he had no idea he would eventually become an Ambassador.

Before attending U of M, Wagar got his B.A. at Roberts Wesleyan College, a Christian conservative college in Rochester, New York – an interesting place for his very liberal opinions. This exposure to a different environment was very beneficial, according to him. “I think this is an important character trait in any human being, but it’s particularly important in diplomacy and politics. Humility. You gotta know what you don’t know, and you can’t be afraid to ask questions,” Wagar said.

He also believes that if you’re interested in a career in diplomacy or politics, it is paramount to “get involved in something bigger than yourself,” he said. “For starters, it’ll give you purpose. You’ll know that you’re making a difference.”

While the Ambassador has consistently and appropriately utilized such personality traits, his path to getting where he is wasn’t a walk in the park.

“I’m candid to a fault, I tell people what I think… [before I took this job,] I hadn’t had a boss in 12 years, I didn’t know how well I would play with others,” Ambassador Wagar said. “There’s been many points in my life of failure that, you know, you don’t know that you’re gonna get back up from.”

Truly, nobody is perfect. “But, you know, steel is forged in fire,” Wagar said. “Life’s not supposed to be easy, it’s not about whether you get knocked down, it’s about how and when you get back up. There’s this phrase that my mother says… ‘God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle, I just wish he didn’t have so much faith in me.’”

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Ambassador Wagar at the Trade Pacific Partnership Agreement. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Dunn.
There’s one last tip that Ambassador Wagar thinks is crucial – not just in a career in politics, but as a human trait. “People don’t want to hang out with or watch TV about things they don’t agree with… and I just find that to be so limiting.” To him, it’s important to be open and interested. Just because you disagree with something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to understand it.

“I think that is so crucial. For anyone. And I don’t think that stops. I’m gonna be 47 this year, and I hope that I am learning until the day that I am no longer taking a breath. Because anything else seems a lot less interesting.”

Listen to Ambassador Wagar talk about his experience with President Obama and Justin Timberlake.

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