On June 24, 2011, President Barack Obama nominated Adrienne S. O’Neal to be the United States ambassador to Cape Verde, a Portuguese-speaking island nation 300 miles off the west coast of Africa. There is a significant Cape Verdean-American population, particularly in New Bedford, Massachusetts. O’Neal received her Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on October 5, but she has yet to be confirmed by the full Senate.
Born circa 1954, O’Neal grew up in New Orleans with her father, Samuel O’Neal, and her mother, Vernese B. O’Neal, who served more than twenty years as director of admissions at Dillard University. After graduating from Abramson High School in 1972, O’Neal earned a double B.A. in Spanish Language and Business Administration at Spelman College in Atlanta and an M.M.L. in Spanish Language and Literature from Middlebury College in Vermont. She also completed the coursework, but not a thesis, for a PhD in Spanish and Portuguese Literature at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities.
O’Neal, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the personal rank of minister-counselor, joined the State Department in 1983. Already proficient in Spanish and Portuguese, O’Neal received six months’ training in Italian and was sent on her first overseas mission to Rome, Italy. Other assignments have included service in Argentina; as Director of the Office of Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy for Europe and Eurasian Affairs; and a detail as Deputy Press Secretary to the Director of National Drug Control Policy at the White House.
O’Neal has also served as press attaché and chief of section at the U.S. Embassy in Maputo, Mozambique, circa 1995 to 1998; as consul general at the consulate in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, circa 1999 to 2003; and as chargé d’affaires and deputy chief of mission at the U. S. Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal, from June 2004 to July 2007. From August 2007 to July 2009, O’Neal was Diplomat in Residence at the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. Returning to the State Department in Washington, DC, she served as the Director of the Senior Level Division of Career Development and Assignments in Human Resources from 2009 to 2011.