LEGAL EDUCATION / DIPLOMACY – What I Learned from a Diplomat (Ann Kerr-Adams)

LEGAL EDUCATION / DIPLOMACY – What I Learned from a Diplomat (Ann Kerr-Adams)

March 21, 2019

On February 23, 2019 I had the honor of attending a luncheon for the San Diego Alumni Chapter of the American University of Beirut (“AUB”) and heard Ms. Ann Kerr-Adams speak.  A captivating speaker whose words and stories held the room’s attention in an unprecedented manner.  Her soft-spoken voice demanded dead silence, which the room happily gave her.

Ms. Kerr-Adams, a California native, decided to leave Occidental College her junior year to study abroad at the AUB in Beirut, Lebanon.  While there she met her late husband, Malcolm Kerr, who was appointed AUB President in 1982, and assassinated a shortly thereafter in 1984.  Ms. Kerr-Adams after graduating from Occidental, earned her masters from the American University of Cairo (“AUC”) and taught at the AUB, AUC and currently teaches two classes at the University of California, Los Angeles: “US values versus US interest in greater Middle East Diplomacy” and “Perception of the US Abroad, discussions with Fullbright Scholars”.

In addition to teaching, Ms. Kerr-Adams holds the following positions:

  • Coordinator for the Visiting Fulbright Scholar Program at UCLA
  • Board of Trustee member of the AUB
  • Member of the Advisory Board of the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy and Council on Foreign Relations
  • Founding member and past chair of the Leadership Council of the Churches for Middle East Peace
  • Publish Author – publications include: “Come with Me from Lebanon: An American Family Odyssey”; “Painting the Middle East” and series of articles that can be found at UCLA’s International Institute news page:

Prior to this talk I envisioned all diplomats, official and unofficial alike, as anyone who represents their country abroad, not giving much thought as to what makes one excel in their role; Ms. Kerr-Adam highlighted 4 key characteristics:

  1. THRIVING ON NOVELTY: She Leans Into the Unknown

Ms. Kerr-Adams started her talk describing the route she traveled to get from Los Angeles to Beirut in 1954.  It was a 17-day trip on a freight ship with a one day stop in Casablanca.  When describing her first impression of Casablaca she explained that is was a “mystical” experience.  She recalled being greeted with foreign sounds, specifically the call of prayer and observed the old world and new world colliding and coexisting in this bustling city.  Rather than being fearful or retreating she embraced the experience with curiosity and fascination.

  1. PAUSING: She Stops and Reflects

When discussing the assassination of her late husband Malcom Kerr, she recalls sitting on campus at the AUB starring off at the clock tower near the main gate.  She analogized between the volatility in her personal life and the volatility surrounding the AUB.  Beirut at the time of the assassination was in the midst of a civil war and there was instability throughout the region; despite the intensifying chaos she paused. In these moments of reflection she recalls the clock tower continuing to move and to her this symbolized, that despite all the loss and misfortune she must continue.

  1. SPOTLIGHT: She does not live in the Shadows of Others

During her talk Ms. Kerr-Adams shared her personal journey with the room, however she made it a point to discuss the accomplishments of her former roommates at the AUB.  She proudly passed around a newspaper article written by one of her former roommates and happily shared all of their accomplishments. Additionally, when asked about her former husband or her son Steve Kerr, the NBA head coach of the Golden State Warriors, she embraced the questions and responded with joy. Ms. Kerr-Adams is not living in anyone’s shadow. She is accomplished and successful in her own right, and when given a forum to speak she takes the opportunity to spotlight others’ accomplishments and does not monopolize the time for her own self-gain.


Ms. Kerr-Adams when discussing her seminar class at UCLA “US Value versus US Interest in Greater Middle East Diplomacy” she went on to state: “there are no answers, we just explore questions”.

Along those lines, following her talk she gracefully opened the floor for questions, one of which was a question regarding Lebanese politics and a need for secularism in the government.  Clearly the individual had his own frustrations and emotions tied to this issue and there was a shift in the room after he posed the question.  Rather than feeling compelled to provide and answer Ms. Kerr-Adams validated the question not by answering but rather acknowledging that there is a valid reason as to why he may feel that way.  While it is possible that religion may have contributed to instability and volatility in Lebanon, Ms. Kerr-Adams did not impose her own views rather she encouraged all of us to inquire further as to why or why not we may feel this way.


Admittedly I am biased. I am captivated by the meaningful and honorable life she is leading.  She embarked on an adventure her junior year of college and that decision forever changed the trajectory of her life, I only wish to be this adventurous in my own.  Additionally she was lured and captivated by the Middle East, a region that is dear to my heart. I am in awe by her ability to seamlessly operate and stay connected to both the Middle East and the US.  Most impressively, Ms. Kerr-Adams is a humble educator; when given a forum to speak she creates an environment that spotlights others rather than self-promotion. She possesses a gift of creating an environment that fosters independent thought and autonomy.  As a professor myself I realize this is rare and aspire to do the same.

Diana Legal