This final week before NAFSA's 2012 Annual Conference & Expo in Houston is an excellent time to mark your Conference Connection calendar with the many meetings, events, and visits you want to schedule to ensure that you reconnect with partners, find new partners, and touch base with colleagues from around the world.

Let me urge you to include the conference plenary sessions on your schedule. The line-up of plenary speakers is outstanding and these events are wonderful opportunities to learn and to be inspired. The collective wisdom, perspective, and leadership experience of the four individuals will be a highlight of the conference week—you won't want to miss these events.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is the opening plenary speaker on Tuesday, May 29. A former president of Texas A&M University, Dr. Gates has long articulated the importance of international education to our nation's security and to peacemaking. He is the first secretary of defense to publicly call for increased spending for the U.S. Department of State—for the importance of increased investment in international education and diplomacy.

On Wednesday, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Leymah Gbowee will address the conference, sharing her vision for educating girls as an essential component of bringing peace and justice to the world. We will also be providing opportunities for all attendees to contribute to her foundation to educate Liberian girls.

The Thursday plenary speaker is Rick Steves, known in the United States as a longtime public television travel guide, and an active supporter of study abroad.

The Friday International Plenary and Luncheon speaker will be former Swedish ambassador to the United States Jan Eliasson. Ambassador Eliasson, who will assume the position of deputy secretary-general of the United Nations in July, has had a key role in UN-sponsored mediation efforts in Somalia, Sudan, Sudan, Mozambique, and the Balkans. (Purchase a ticket for the Friday plenary and luncheon with Ambassador Eliasson on site in Houston.)


It's hard to imagine a richer offering of speakers. And that's the point of the plenary sessions—they provide a shared experience for all conference attendees. Plenary sessions are a time for a break from the details of your week, a time to be stimulated and to reflect on the values that brought us to the field and that continue to motivate us each day.

I look forward to seeing you in Houston!

Special note: Not able to join us in Houston? Submit your questions to NAFSA's plenary speakers by using the comment box below or sending a tweet using the #NAFSA12 hashtag. We'll ask the speakers to address some of the questions during the plenary questions and answer period.