From war refugee to Ambassador to the United States, Vlora Çitaku’s path to Washington is a remarkable one. At 37, Çitaku is reported to be the world’s youngest ambassador, representing the Republic of Kosovo in the most powerful country on Earth.
Çitaku offered keynote remarks at Delaware’s first annual Millennial Summit in Wilmington on Tuesday, telling more than 300 young professionals at the Chase Center that courage and personal resolve have been essential to her success.
Speakers and panel discussions at the Summit (70 presenters in all) covered topics ranging from green technology and corporate social responsibility, to community-based economic and social transformation and even an exploration of how millennials can position Delaware for the future.
Ambassador Çitaku led with a compelling life story. Her personal narrative of survival and perseverance was laced with words of inspiration that moved and impressed the audience.
Çitaku became a refugee at age 18 during the Kosovo War and remembers vividly the shock of being separated from her parents and being deported from her home as part of the Serbian military’s ethnic cleansing campaign. “As I was carrying my little sister in my arms, I was completely in fear,” she said.
Not knowing where she and her three sisters were going or what they would do, the anxiety or her new reality worsened when they were not even referred to by name. “You become stripped of everything and become a number. But as soon as I crossed the border,” she recalled, “there was a sea of people with toys and water and blankets and hope.”
Eventually she reunited with her family.
Like others who have been profoundly impacted by life experiences, Çitaku feels it is important to share her gratitude and wisdom. “Everybody has difficult times,” she said. “You have to stay focused, work hard, never give up and believe in what you stand for.”
With a nod to the current political climate, Çitaku reminded the young adults that they need to do their part to “find a way to work together.” She advised the young adults to be compassionate, to develop friends they can rely on, and strive to feel connected to their communities. “We are interconnected – we are not only responsible to ourselves and our families but also to the global community.”
With some in the audience just starting their career paths, Çitaku reminded them to make the best of their own talents. “You don’t have to be rich to make a difference. You just have to have an idea.”
In a Q&A moderated by Axios Media Reporter Sara Fischer, Çitaku revealed what she likes most about the U.S. Two cities she enjoyed visiting a include New Orleans and Seattle, and she admires American democracy. “Yours is much more open than the European democracy.”
She also said she believes that Europeans are by nature a more cynical people, and Americans more trusting. “People in my country look up to America for inspiration. And this inspiration does not come exclusively from the powerful. It comes from the entrepreneurial spirit of its citizenry – people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg – who think, study, and come up with an idea that will have a positive change and make a difference.”