RIVER FOREST, ILLINOIS — Two weeks before she was killed in Afghanistan, diplomat Anne Smedinghoff escorted Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to the country. On Monday, Kerry stopped in Chicago to visit with the parents of Smedinghoff, 25, who was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. As Secretary Kerry met with her parents and siblings at O'Hare Airport, her hometown continued to mourn her loss.
At Fenwick High School in suburban Chicago, Associate Principal Richard Borsch remembers that former student Anne Smedinghoff was destined for public service, reflected in a college recommendation by one her teachers.
The last two lines of one his recommendations said, [if] 'She will be as active and involved as she was at Fenwick on your campus, please give this future public servant every possible consideration.' That’s when she was 17," Borsch noted.
Just eight years later her promising career as a diplomat was cut short by an apparent suicide bomber, and the loss has brought the war in Afghanistan home to Fenwick High School.
“I think whatever people consider of our foreign involvement, it’s a bit of an abstraction until its one of your own students, one of your own graduates, one of your own community," Borsch said, "and then it’s brought home with great emotional impact.”
That emotional impact has brought the community of River Forest, Illinois - Smedinghoff’s hometown together.
As word of her death spread, neighbors and church leaders quickly organized a drive to place white ribbons and flags throughout the community to honor Smedinghoff.
The response exceeded Margaret Brown’s expectations.
“I had bought 500 flags, and by 4:30 pm or 5:00 pm we had already gone through those first 500 flags,” Brown said.
“On my way home, all the way through the Oak Park area, through River Forest, all the way to the community I live in, white ribbons all along the route. Pretty impressive,” remarked Borsch.
Local churches passed out the flags and ribbons to people who donated books in Anne’s memory. The blast that took her life occurred while visiting an Afghan school to distribute textbooks.
"She was there as a peace builder, and living internationally in a dangerous place, " Brown said, "but she was all about having good relationships with the Afghan people and especially the children.”
Father Richard Peddicord, the President of Fenwick High School, a Catholic institution, led a memorial mass at the school for Anne Smedinghoff.
He said that while a guiding light in the local community has now been extinguished, she did not die in vain.
“Whether it could be Afghanistan, it could be anywhere, that doing the right thing, helping people, bringing textbooks to kids that need them, regardless of the overall political or historical context, is a good thing,” he said.
The secretary of state called Anne Smedinghoff "full of idealism and...hope," just as she will be remembered here at Fenwick High School.