On a whistle stop tour of the West Coast in early December, which included stops in California, Oregon, and Arizona, President Mary McAleese met representatives of local Irish and Irish-American organizations to strengthen cultural, trade and business links between the two countries. On December 11, The University of San Francisco (USF) awarded President McAleese an honorary doctor of humane letters degree in a special ceremony at the McLaren Conference Center on the USF campus. In a gathering of almost 700 people, USF President Stephen A. Privett described the President as "a leader who exemplifies a dedication to reasoned discourse and working for the common good - two skills we strive to instill in our students. "In honoring President McAleese for her steadfast commitment to the promotion of peace and unity in her homeland of Ireland and around the world, USF underscores its mission to fashion a more humane and just world." For her part, President McAleese stressed that the recent peace and prosperity in Ireland was linked to the Irish diaspora all over the world, particularly in America, and underlined the key role that education played in the process of regeneration of Ireland. "Our narrative has changed. Thankfully, and in this place it is important to say it, one of the reasons our narrative has changed is largely thanks to widened access to education. That has made a huge, big difference to us," said the President. "I can say, without fear of contradiction in this university, that peace really began to be constructed and to emerge with the best educated and most accomplished generation in our history. It came to us as a feature of our education, of being able to critique ourselves and also construct more imaginative outcomes." On December 14, President McAleese visited the Irish Cultural Center in Phoenix where she gave a speech on the Irish diaspora. Over 400 people turned up to meet the head of state. She also unveiled a plaque to commemorate her visit on the site where a proposed library will be built at the Center - and where the plaque and Irish culture will ultimately find a home.
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