Longtime Minnesotan, transatlantic relations scholar honored by his native Sri Lanka

Patrick Mendis, an award-winning University of Minnesota alumnus, has recently been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Sri Lanka Foundation in Los Angeles, California. The Foundation recognizes the outstanding achievements and valuable contributions made by Sri Lankans living in the United States and around the world.

Mendis, a long-time Minnesota resident and a Community Voices contributor to MinnPost, is currently serving as a distinguished visiting professor of transatlantic relations at the University of Warsaw in Poland as well as a distinguished visiting professor of global affairs at the National Chengchi University in Taiwan.

Aside from his teaching career in the United States and overseas in Asia and Europe, Mendis is recognized for his bipartisan government service in both Democratic and Republican administrations.

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Bipartisan spirits

He credited his accomplishments in academia and bipartisan public service to the legendary Edward Burdick, the late nonpartisan parliamentarian and chief clerk of the Minnesota House of Representatives, who “adopted” him while attending the University of Minnesota in the 1980s. 

“Ed taught me the true nature of Americanism. And he installed in me an idea that I must journey alone sometime, but I need to have two wings like a bald eagle to serve America best. So, I decided to work in a bipartisan manner with the Democratic and Republican administrations,” Mendis said.

Edward Burdick, left, with Patrick Mendis, middle, and Patrick Murphy, the current chief clerk and parliamentarian of the Minnesota House of Representatives, in 1984.

Courtesy photo

Edward Burdick, left, with Patrick Mendis, middle, and Patrick Murphy, the current chief clerk and parliamentarian of the Minnesota House of Representatives, in 1984.

The late Burdick had been revered as the bipartisan “Voice of the House” in Minnesota.

Commitment to public service 

Until the Trump White House withdrew from UNESCO, a UN agency in Paris, Mendis served as an American commissioner to the United States National Commission for UNESCO at the U.S. Department of State. 

He was appointed twice by Secretaries of State Hilary Clinton and John Kerry in the Obama administration.

Previously, he worked as the secretariat director of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs under the late Secretary of State Colin Powell in the Bush administration, as well as the chairman of the Science and Technology Policy Working Group under the late Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in the Clinton administration.

Before joining the State Department, Mendis served as a military professor to American Service Members in the NATO and Indo-Pacific Commands of the Pentagon.

Honoring Minnesota traditions

While studying and then teaching at the University of Minnesota, Mendis received the Hubert Humphrey Leadership Award and the Harold Stassen Award for United Nations Affairs for his contributions to the university and the Minnesota community at large. 

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More importantly, Mendis had close personal relationships with the late Republican Gov. Harold Stassen, the late Vice President and Democrat Walter Mondale, and the late Frances Humphrey Howard, a sister of the late Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

When he worked with the late Burdick in the Minnesota Legislature, Mendis developed a greater appreciation for the bipartisan public service from his mentor and friend.

Patrick Mendis shown with former Vice President Walter Mondale at the Humphrey School in 1984.

Courtesy photo

Patrick Mendis shown with former Vice President Walter Mondale at the Humphrey School in 1986.

After receiving the Honorary Citizenship of Minnesota from the late DFL Gov. Rudy Perpich, Mendis went to serve on the staff of Republican Sen. Rudy Boschwitz in Washington, D.C.

American Journey

When Mendis was a teenager, he arrived in Minnesota from Sri Lanka as an American Field Service high school exchange scholar. He learned to speak English in Minnesota and decided to alternate his career between academia and government service.

Educated at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, Mendis is a quintessential Minnesotan with the “Minnesota Nice” mannerism and his collaborative work spirits.

“When we are faced with many global challenges and polarized by political and ethnic factions, we must work together more like Americans than Democrats and Republicans for the pursuit of general happiness and the cause of human progress,” Mendis said. 

Author of over 200 books, journal articles and newspaper columns, Mendis is a sought-after speaker and expert on American history, U.S. foreign policy, and Sino-American relations.

To memorialize his Minnesota roots and the legacies of bipartisan spirits, Mendis established the Edward Burdick Legislative Award at the University of Minnesota. 

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It is timely and fitting for this “adopted” Minnesotan to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award to highlight the importance of bipartisan spirits that is lacking in the American political culture these days.

Indeed, his American journey in government service and academia is the message for “the cause of human progress” in the United States and the world.

Marlon Dale Ferreira is a journalist in Sri Lanka who visited the U.S. to attend the recent ceremony in Los Angeles at which Patrick Mendis was honored.