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Farah Pandith, former special representative to Muslim communities for the U.S. Department of State is awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws during the Phase I ceremony of Tufts University's 162nd Commencement on Sunday, May 20, 2018. (Alonso Nichols /Tufts University)


Appointed in 2009 to be the first U.S. Special Representative to Muslim Communities, you advanced efforts to strengthen communities through engagement on a global platform. Your desire to serve was forged in the tragedy of September 11, after which, you said, you “felt called to action . . . to serve my nation.” Your early understanding of the appeal of extremist ideologies paved the way for a new set of foreign policy tools to deal with the threat of violent extremism. Recognizing that it is critical to offer positive alternatives, you worked to create powerful opportunities for youth across the world to engage peacefully. Serving both Republican and Democratic presidents, in agencies as varied as the National Security Council, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the State Department, you have worked directly with civil society and governments in more than one hundred countries to develop new ways to protect young people. We salute your vision and achievements by awarding you the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.


When FARAH PANDITH, F95, was appointed the first Special Representative to Muslim Communities by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009, she used the job’s global platform—and her previous experiences—to further her efforts as a pioneer in the field of countering violent extremism.

Reporting directly to Clinton, and later to Secretary of State John Kerry, Pandith focused on engaging young Muslims around the world and building networks and programs of “credible voices” needed to dull the appeal of the us-versus-them narrative of terrorist organizations. Highlighting the need to promote dialogue and diplomacy, Secretary Clinton noted that Pandith’s unique ability would help ensure that the United States remained fully engaged. Over the next six years, Pandith traveled to almost one hundred countries, working directly with civil society and governments to develop new tools offline and online to protect youth. Her expertise and vantage point provided key insights into the threat of extremist recruitment. Her early understanding of the appeal of the ideology of extremists paved the way for a new set of foreign policy tools to deal with the extremist threat.

In a career that spans the public and the private sectors, Pandith has been international in focus. A political appointee in the administrations of George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, she crossed party lines to work effectively on national security issues. Her first job was at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which she started soon after graduating from Smith College, where she was student body president. Eager to learn more about foreign policy and security studies, Pandith returned to Massachusetts, graduating from the Fletcher School in 1995 with a master of arts in law and diplomacy, having completed firsthand research interviewing militants—a foreshadowing of a career to come. She turned to the private sector as vice president of international business at ML Strategies in Boston for several years, but after 9/11 “felt called to action.” “Surely,” she recalled she thought at the time, “there is something I can do with my background to serve my nation.” Born in India and raised in Massachusetts, Pandith has devoted her work to strengthening communities through engagement and in particular building resilience in youth.

In 2003, Pandith returned to public service, working first at USAID as chief of staff of the Bureau for Asia and the Near East, then at the National Security Council as the director for Middle East Regional Initiatives. In the wake of the Danish Cartoon Crisis, Pandith was appointed senior advisor to the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, where she focused on engagement with Muslims in Europe and pioneered programs to directly address the ideology of groups such as al-Qaeda. As a result of that work, she became the first Special Representative for Muslim Communities, a role created for her.

In 2014, Pandith left government for Harvard University’s Kennedy School, where she maintains an affiliation as a nonresident senior fellow in the Future of Diplomacy Project. A former Institute of Politics fellow at the Kennedy School, she is currently an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and head of strategy for the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue. From 2015 to 2017, Pandith served on Secretary Jeh Johnson’s Homeland Security Advisory Committee, where she chaired the subcommittee on countering violent extremism.

Pandith has put her knowledge into a forthcoming book: How We Win: How Cutting-Edge Entrepreneurs, Political Visionaries, Enlightened Business Leaders, and Social Media Mavens Can Defeat the Extremist Threat, due out this fall. Among the many honors Pandith has received are the State Department Secretary’s Distinguished Honor Award, the Smith College Medal, and the Tufts University Distinguished Achievement Award. Awarded the Rings of Tolerance by the European Academy of Sciences and Arts, Pandith has served on the leadership or advisory boards of numerous organizations, including the We Are Family Foundation, Tribeca Film Institute, and the Women in Public Service Project, of which she was a key architect. She has also served as a trustee of Smith College and of Milton Academy and is currently a member of the Fletcher School Board of Advisors.

Tufts will award Pandith an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.