I Remember Samantha Smith: Goodwill Ambassador
By Yvette Irène Saint-André
In 1987, when I was a young teenager, I traveled for the first time without my parents across the Atlantic Ocean, to a place I will forever hold in my memory: Artek. Artek is located in what was then the Soviet Union—now, in Ukraine—on the sparkling waters of the Black Sea. At the time, Artek was the most prestigious Young Pioneer Camp in the whole Soviet Union. The Young Pioneers were much like the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts in the United States. At Artek, Pioneers and their international guests such as me engaged in sports, games, dancing, singing, and—whenever we got a chance—we would jump into the salty Black Sea for a swim. Most importantly, we kids at Artek made international contacts that would last a lifetime. After leaving Artek, I became pen pals with children from all over the world, and in 1990 visited two of my Artek friends at their homes in Poland, less than a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
I went to Artek to honor the memory of my schoolmate, Samantha Smith. Samantha and I both grew up in the northernmost state of New England—Maine. In 1982, when Samantha was just 10 years old, she wrote a letter to the Soviet leader Yuri Andropov asking him to explain the difficult relations between the Soviet Union and the United States. Samantha was concerned about nuclear war and wished for peace on earth. To Samantha’s great surprise, Mr. Andropov wrote her back, telling her that he, too, wanted peace. He invited Samantha to come to the Soviet Union as his guest and she accepted. Samantha journeyed far from her small town in Maine to the Soviet Union, where she visited many places, including Artek. It was during that trip to the Soviet Union that the charming young Samantha became a symbol of world peace. She later traveled around the United States and to Japan and was referred to in international media as "America’s Youngest Ambassador." Then, on August 25, 1985, Samantha died a tragic death in a small plane crash in Maine. My home state and the world beyond suffered a great loss that day.
Samantha’s influence lived on after her death—and it lives on still. She left such a lasting impression on others that a diamond, plant, ship, mountain and asteroid were all named in her honor. She influenced me greatly, as I followed Samantha’s trip to the Soviet Union with admiration and wonder. I kept a scrapbook in which I taped all of the many articles I could find written about Samantha’s fairytale trip. Her goodwill tour sowed a seed in me, making me realize that just one person can truly make a difference in international diplomacy. Samantha’s trip and my subsequent summer at Artek inspired me to become an exchange student in Europe during my senior year of high school, and later to attend university and work in six different foreign countries. I earned a Masters degree in international relations at Johns Hopkins’ SAIS, which further trained me for a career in foreign affairs. Now I am proud to work for the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC. There I reflect on Samantha Smith and the inspiring example she set as one of the youngest goodwill ambassadors of our time.
This article originally appeared on the Especially for Youth: Resources for Teachers & Students section of the 200 Years of U.S. - Russia Diplomatic Relations page of the Embassy of the United States in Russia (2007).