Hauenstein Center recognizes GV alumnus
Former U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle received Hauenstein Fellowship Medal
GVL / Courtesy - GVNow John Beyrle receives the Hauenstein Fellowship Medal at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids Feb. 8, 2016.
Grand Valley State University’s Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies is dedicated to cultivating, developing and recognizing leaders on campus through programs and resources for students like the Cook Leadership Academy, lecture series like the Wheelhouse Talks and the Common Ground Initiative and the Seidman House, a library housed on the Allendale Campus.
In order to reach out to the larger community and recognize great leaders that are not necessarily on campus, the center offers the Col. Ralph W. Hauenstein Fellowship Medal to a public servant who exemplifies the leadership style and ethics of Ralph Hauenstein, founder and namesake of the leadership center. The medal has been given to people such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Gen. Brent Scowcroft.
On Feb. 8, the medal was given to a GVSU alumnus for the first time. John Beyrle, a 1975 graduate of GVSU, was awarded the medal.
“We thought, ‘how can we set up something that honors both Grand Valley and Ralph (Hauenstein)?'” said Gleaves Whitney, president of the Hauenstein Center. “It’s the highest honor we give at the center.”
Beyrle, a Muskegon native, started his collegiate career at Muskegon Community College before transferring to GVSU, where he studied French and German before discovering an interest in Russian. Learning languages had always been easy for him, so studying a language was a natural move.
“Languages were always something that just came really easily and really naturally to me,” he said. “I was just wired in a way that foreign languages were a pleasure for me to learn.”
Beyrle was taken with the Russian language and went on to the University of Michigan for graduate school to study Slavic linguistics, on track to become a professor. During a semester-long study abroad trip to Leningrad, USSR, Beyrle was fascinated by the economy in the Soviet Union and became familiar with the U.S. Embassy there.
“I got completely taken by the political paradox of the Soviet Union,” Beyrle said. “Trying to unravel that riddle suddenly became more interesting to me than Slavic linguistics.”
Upon returning to the U.S., Beyrle changed his course of study to focus more on international relations and foreign policy. After graduating, he took the foreign service exam and began his career in foreign affairs.
Beyrle’s career took him all across the world, as he served as a junior officer in Bulgaria and the Soviet Union, traveling to countries like the Czech Republic and Austria. From 2005 until 2008, he served as a U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria, moving from that post in 2008 to become an ambassador to Russia until 2012.
The Hauenstein Center chose to recognize Beyrle because of his success achieved throughout his career.
“He was a distinguished undergraduate and had a very distinguished career,” Whitney said. “He has all this experience. He’s advised Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, he knows so much. He’s so accessible, an interesting guy, very friendly and eager to help. It was just great having him back.”
Some of Beyrle’s now-retired undergraduate professors attended the ceremony on Feb. 8 to watch their former student receive the highest honor given by the Hauenstein Center.
“For me, it was like things coming full circle,” Beyrle said. “To be able to talk about my foreign service career and going all the way back to my time at Grand Valley and to be able to thank the people who helped open the doors for me was really gratifying, really wonderful.”
For more information about the Hauenstein Center, visit www.hauensteincenter.org.