Under Secretary Marisa Lago Remarks - March 8, 2022

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you for that kind introduction. 

I am so pleased to be here to spend time with such a talented and accomplished group of women. You may just be a dozen women, but you represent the future. As a New York City native, I was particularly happy to learn about NYU Abu Dhabi’s role in the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs program alongside Grow Me International, the AmCham Abu Dhabi, and the U.S. Embassy, represented here by our Consul General Gregonis, who you will easily recognize as she is bedecked in stunning suffragette white.

At an International Women’s Day event at which I spoke earlier today, I emphasized how essential women are to economic growth, and how vital equitable economic opportunity is to uplifting women. It is inspiring to see all of you seizing the fantastic opportunity available to you through the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs and showing all that you have to contribute. 

For me, marking this triumph with you is especially personal. I know how difficult and exciting it can be to take a bold—and sometimes scary—step toward breaking down barriers. I have also experienced how one big break—or, to paraphrase the play Hamilton—taking your “one shot” can reverberate and reward you for years to come. 

I was born in Brooklyn to a family of immigrants fleeing war and seeking economic opportunity, a multigenerational family of men working on the gritty docks of the Brooklyn waterfront and women in garment factory sweatshops. I loved math and science—academics came easily—and was always at the top of my class academically. I had the grades to get into top schools, but college was not a given for one reason—economics. And then I got accepted into Cooper Union, a tiny gem of a college, founded by an immigrant who became a steel baron. Given Peter Cooper’s own experiences, he founded Cooper Union to be 100% tuition free—I could go to college! For those of you who do not know Cooper Union, it is a hub of engineering, art, and architecture in the heart of New York City just a few blocks from NYU’s main campus. 

I knew that going to Cooper Union had changed the trajectory of my life. And because I am so grateful, I have spent the decades since working to expand opportunities for future generations. Being with you today is part of that promise—and an expression of the gratitude I have for the women who paved the way before me and those, like you, who will continue to forge new paths. 

When I graduated from Cooper Union, I carried with me not just rigorous academic training in physics, but also the confidence that I could do anything, especially absolutely anything that my male peers could do. I learned what it felt like to look around a classroom, or a meeting room, or work-related social gatherings and see nobody else who looked like me. I also understood that this distinction could be an advantage, one that made me stronger, nimbler and more capable. 

The opportunity that Cooper Union gave me, and the hard-fought confidence I earned there, has served me well since. It set my life on a trajectory that has brought me here to speak with you as the first woman to be confirmed as Under Secretary for International Trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce. There were times during my journey when I ran up against the prejudices of others or my own doubts. I am here to tell you not to listen to either—and most especially do not let your doubts hold you back

I think that I know how you feel today, having seized your chance and on the precipice of an exciting unknown, and I am confident that you will make good on that opportunity. Challenges may continue to come your way, but you have already taken the most difficult step. You should be immensely proud of yourselves and carry this confidence forward into your next projects.

When I look out at you today, I also think of all the women who should be with us and were unable to be, the women who never had the chance—held back by bias, unshared caregiving responsibilities, or lack of economic opportunity. It is my priority at the International Trade Administration to expand this opportunity, to support and uplift women and underserved communities, including through our Women Empowered Leave Legacies through Trade and Investment, or WELLTI, Initiative, which is holding its first Summit this week in Dubai.

As the next generation of female entrepreneurs, your future success comes with the same duty to help support those around you. Together, we can ensure that by the time one of you takes this podium—as a CEO, global changemaker, or perhaps a government policymaker—the audience of successful women before you will be much, much larger.

Congratulations on completing the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs. I wish you and your businesses abundant—make that overwhelming—success. And, I implore you to capitalize on your one shot by spreading broadly the types of opportunities that you have received to the generation of women who will follow you. 

Thank you for the opportunity to be with you today, and, as we say in my Mother Tongue, en hora buena—it’s your day!