((Washington, D.C. – October 21, 2020) The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) mourns and sends its deepest condolences to the family of former U.S. Ambassador Peter F. Secchia who passed away today. Ambassador Secchia was a dear friend and generous benefactor of the Foundation, who established NIAF’s signature Voyage of Discovery program.
“Ambassador Peter Secchia served this country with honor and never forgot his Italian heritage. Through his commitment and funding of the Ambassador Peter F. Secchia Voyage of Discovery grants through NIAF, he changed the lives of hundreds of young people enabling them to connect in meaningful ways to their heritage,” said NIAF Chairman Patricia de Stacy Harrison. “His legacy will live on benefitting current and future generations. We extend our prayers and condolences to his family.”
While serving as the United States Ambassador to the Italian Republic and the Republic of San Marino under President George H.W. Bush (1989-1993), Ambassador Peter F. Secchia came in contact with countless college students who were traveling to Italy for their first time. Witnessing their reactions, he was deeply moved by the look he saw on so many young Italian American students’ faces when they first experienced what Italy has to offer.
In 1999, recognizing the lifelong impact that a trip to Italy had on these students’ identities, Ambassador Secchia proposed that NIAF create a program to send 40 Italian American students, between the ages of 18 and 23, on their first trip to Italy—a program to explore their heritage and experience the land of their ancestors. In 2000, NIAF, with the financial support of Ambassador Secchia, launched the Ambassador Peter F. Secchia Gift of Discovery Program.
The program began with four trips for Italian American students to either northern or southern Italy to help them bond with the country of their ancestors, cultivate a deeper appreciation for their roots and create a desire to preserve and protect their heritage for generations to come.
In addition to sending Italian American students to Italy, in its first year, NIAF and Ambassador Secchia funded a trip for a group of 40 Italian students to cities in the United States like New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Providence, RI. During this trip, the Italian students learned about the profound impact that Italian Americans have made in the United States since the arrival of the first Italian immigrants. The trip immediately became one of NIAF’s most popular and competitive programs.
In 2007, the annual trip was renamed from the “Gift of Discovery” to the “Voyage of Discovery” and each year, except for this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic*, a different group of Italian American college students visit the NIAF Region of Honor. The trip entails intimate tours of local attractions, meeting with Italian business leaders and government officials and cultural excursions.
In 2013, NIAF started to incorporate a day of service in the itinerary to provide students the unique opportunity to give back to the country of their ancestors. In 2019, to celebrate the 20th anniversary since the Voyage of Discovery’s inception, Ambassador Secchia generously committed an additional $1.5 million to ensure the programs future longevity.
A special celebration in honor of the Voyage of Discovery’s 20th anniversary took place during the 44th Anniversary Gala Weekend, which Ambassador Secchia attended in Washington, D.C. Before the Gala, NIAF hosted a reception where nearly 100 alumni from the program were able to meet and personally thank Ambassador Secchia, who made their first trip to Italy possible.
Then, during the 44th Anniversary Gala, NIAF shared a touching video about Ambassador Secchia’s life and contributions to the Foundation, along with heartfelt testimonials from the program’s alumni. Afterwards, Ambassador Secchia gave his remarks, “You heard some of [the alumni’s] conversations about how they fell in love with their ancient civilization… There have been seven weddings among people who met [on the Voyage of Discovery].” He smiled as he added, “I’m not sure that’s the purpose of the trip but we might get some new members from it.” He closed his remarks reflecting on the impact of the program: “The letters I get and the tears I see when people talk, it makes it all worthwhile. It makes it feel good to give.”To date, more than 800 students have experienced Italy thanks to Ambassador Secchia’s contribution to the Voyage of Discovery program.
Ambassador Secchia also served on the NIAF Board of Directors from 1994 to 2000. In the mid-1990s,the ambassador purchased the naming rights to NIAF’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., which is now named the Ambassador Peter F. Secchia Building in his honor.
In addition to his public service, the ambassador, a longtime resident of East Grand Rapids, Mich., was known for his philanthropic and charitable activities.
The National Italian American Foundation will always forever be deeply grateful to Ambassador Secchia for his commitment to the future generation of the Italian American community.
To learn more about Ambassador Secchia’s legacy, visit: https://bit.ly/3me5c1B.