Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright speaks at Norwich

Liberal Arts College Dean Andrea Talentino, left, sits with distinguished former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who visited Norwich to speak at the Todd Lecture series Tuesday, Nov. 3. Photo by Amber Reichart.

Liberal Arts College Dean Andrea Talentino, left, sits with distinguished former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who visited Norwich to speak at the Todd Lecture series Tuesday, Nov. 3. Photo by Amber Reichart.

Distinguished former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sat down with Guidon Editor Liam Carroll and the Norwich Record’s Sean Markey before her Todd Lecture speech Tuesday Nov. 9 to talk about issues today’s college students and future leaders face, as well as how to address them.

Q: What do you see as the greatest challenge facing the country today and what would you do to address it?

A: I think there are a number of challenges in a variety of areas. I do think that climate change is a very big challenge for us, and partially because we know it’s happening and yet it is not so imminent that people know what to do about it. But then also I think another challenge is that there are things going on all over the world that are very different from the types of issues that we’ve had before. I don’t want to have everything related to fighting terrorism, but it’s a very difficult aspect of trying to figure out what the right tools are to try and fight terrorism. And then also, our people are tired from Iraq and Afghanistan and there’s a whole question about how much we need to be involved abroad and who are our partners in that, so I think it’s a very complex period.

Q: What worries you the most?

A:What worries me the most is that there are so many different challenges that the question is, what is the role of the United States and to what extent do we have partners in trying to deal with the different challenges (we face)?. President Clinton was the first one to say, we were an indispensable nation, but I said it so often that it became identified with me. But there is nothing in the definition of indispensable that says “alone,” and so the question is how do we deal with the myriad challenges that are out there with which partners, and that’s the hard part at the moment because we had thought that Europe was our most natural partner, and they are going through all kinds of turmoil. We are trying to figure out what our relationship is with China. The Russians are operating in their own particular way, which is hard to decipher and yet there are things going on in the Middle East that are stunningly complicated and we can’t forget about various issues – a lot of people continue to die in Africa and in a variety of places, so there is an awful lot going on the United States. We don’t want to be the world policeman but we want to see improvements in a variety of places and we’re trying to figure out with whom, basically.

Q: What makes you most hopeful?

A: I think that the most encouraging are young people, I think in terms of because they see themselves much more as global citizens and I know that a lot of students here, and I teach at Georgetown and I spend a lot of time with university students, in terms of having an interest in national security, foreign policy, speaking a lot of different languages, understanding that national security is complex now that one has to understand science and health policy and understand the domestic politics of the country, I think that young people are my greatest hope.

Q: When you speak with young people today, what advice do you like to share.

A: I probably share more advice than they would like, but basically, that being involved is one of the great joys of life and public service in some particular way and to work hard and to really know that if you really work hard, then you can make a difference. If you just are a spectator, nothing will happen and you will feel that you wasted your life and so I think learning a skill, whatever it is, and having a passion, and being involved is what we talk about.

Q: What are you most passionate about?

A: Many things But I make a great effort to connect the dots on what I do. I’m chairman of the Board of the National Democratic Institute, which is part of the Endowment for Democracy and I do believe we’re all the same and that everybody wants to make decisions about his or her own life, and that while democracy may be complicated, I am passionate about that. One of the things that I’m interested about is the question of whether political change comes first, or economic change. They go together because people want to vote and eat and so I believe in economic development and I also believe in economic relationships, so I have a global consulting firm and I work hard in order to help various companies play a positive role. I’m passionate about teaching, I do love to teach and so all that goes together and various parts of trying to keep learning new things.

Q: You’ve appeared on shows like “Parks and Rec,” and most recently on “Madam Secretary,” do you see more casting calls in your future?
A: I don’t think so but I have had a very good time.

Q: Are young people more disengaged?

A: I think it’s hard to have a general statement. I think that there are various times that engage people more than others. I think there’s some young people who think that they aren’t getting a response out of Washington or that getting involved but basically, it may be that the young people I know are not disengaged and what I do find is that the attempts to develop some kind of national service, that people may not want to be in the military but they do want to serve and trying to figure out and I think most of the young people I know are not disengaged.

Q: What is the most important trait for overcoming challenges?

A: Being determined. I think first of all you have to understand what the challenges are. When I was in second or third grade, very young, I had a report card and it said “Madeleine is discouraged by first difficulties,” and my father kept saying you cannot be discouraged by first difficulties so I think that…I grew up with that kind of thinking. Nothing is simple at the beginning but you cannot be discouraged by first difficulties and if it isn’t difficult it may not be worth doing. The easy things are done kind of routinely. I think not being discouraged by first difficulties and then sort of deciding that you’re just going to push through.

Q: What are some of your daily routines that help contribute to your success.

A: OK, so you will think I’m crazy but I get up at quarter of five in the morning. I read all the newspapers, I go and exercise, I go and work. I sleep on airplanes, and I am a people person. I am kind of a classic extrovert. I get my strength from people and so I kind of do what I like, which is to spend a lot of time with people but I do work hard, I am not discouraged by first difficulties. In fact, I’ve given it up now but I used to leg press 435 pounds, 450. I think that I really have lived by that kind of working hard. I knew that I always would have to work hard. I’ve said this earlier but I’m a naturalized American, I came to this country and so badly just wanted to be an American and fit in and so I worked really hard on that. I really have worked hard and I say that to my own kids is that nothing comes just because you’re cute, you know, you have to work hard.

Q: How would you approach a person who’s determined to disagree with you?

A: Well, basically, I will try. First of all let me go back on something. I think it’s very important to spend time with people that do disagree with you and I think it’s also important to listen to things you disagree with, so when I drive in Washington I listen to right-wing radio. It’s amazing that I haven’t hit somebody or that I haven’t been arrested because I disagree with everything, but I do think that it’s important to understand what is going on. The students that I find the most interesting are the ones that disagree with me, and what I’ve done is in class, a lot of people take my class because of who I was and so I say to them, I’m not here to brainwash you. I did take part in a lot of the decisions that we’re going to talk about and I want you to disagree with me.
I think that what one has to do is start with the assumption that the person disagreeing with you is doing it on the basis of not just beliefs but facts and that truth is a very difficult thing, not just an absolute and so I think it’s very important to begin with respect with the view. If you actually totally can’t persuade the person at all, then you say some four letter word and you basically at a stage give up, but I do think that it’s important to begin with a way of respecting that that person has a right to his or her view and to try and sort out what the basis of that view is and then to use facts rather than anger or emotion to persuade them.

Q: Can you tell us about your pin?

A: I’m happy to, because I wore it on purpose. I talked about General Shalikashvili, he gave me this pin and it is called America, and the four pearls stand for equality, liberty, prosperity, and justice. So I think it’s a pretty good pin. And the pin business began … I have made it a point to get military students in my classes, and veterans, and a few years ago there was a student that wrote an OP-Ed about being a veteran and he said I’m honored to be at Georgetown but I don’t fit in and I don’t know what to do, and so I found him to put him in my classes and he really added a lot and so I now have four active military in my class, and I like it a lot in terms of the way that people bring experience. My experience as a child during World War II, I spent the war in London in an air raid shelter, and it was very evident when the Americans came in and so I have always been in love with Americans in uniform. But then what happened is things that I never expected in my official life, when I raised my right hand, that I would be sending real people to war or to fight and so I would go around to the academies a lot and then try to make eye contact during parades that I was reviewing – which is impossible since they’re told not to look at you- and, while this is the wrong branch to talk about, I have a ship, I christened a ship, the USS McCampbell is my ship, and when I went to commission it, and to christen it at the end, I realized that everybody was 18 years old, running this ship, and it was the biggest gun in the Navy at the time and so I’ve spent a lot of time, and I’ve been to Walter Reid with an amazing group who are doing music, not, as one of them said “for kumbaya” but, anyway I have such respect for the military, and I love going to West Point, I have to say.

Q: Parting thoughts?

A: I am very happy to be here because I love the concept of the citizen soldier and I am so really admiring of people that want to serve their country and the combination of the civilian military and I think this is a great place, I’m delighted to be here.

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