U.S. General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell was greeted with a standing ovation at a packed Hill Auditorium on Tuesday afternoon. The event, organized by the University of Michigan College of Engineering, was part of the James R. Mellor Lecture in conjunction with the Goff Smith Prize.
The event was formatted as a discussion between Powell and Alec Gallimore, dean of the College of Engineering, who read questions composed from a few of the hundreds of questions that audience members had submitted in advance. The questions covered topics such as technology and politics and offered advice for future generations.
LSA freshman Eve Winter was interested in what Powell had to say about politics.
“Colin Powell is really well known, and I’m really interested in politics so I decided to come,” she said. “It’s also a really good way for me to continue to explore the field. This is the second event that I’ve gone to, and it’s really nice to see students come and get involved and I think that more students should take advantage of that.”
Powell began the event by talking about his upbringing in the South Bronx, and specifically how growing up in a diverse area formed the basis of his respect for others. This sentiment was similarly expressed in his opinions regarding diplomacy, and how it is necessary to keep an open dialogue with other nations to solve problems.
Rep Debbie Dingell (D-Mich) also received a shout out from Powell. Prior to the event, she spoke in an interview about how much she admired him.
“I have known Colin Powell for decades,” she said. “Alma is one of my best friends. I think he is truly the epitome of what a public servant is. He loves this country and he is really just a good man and I am excited that he is in my hometown of Ann Arbor.”
Throughout the event, Powel emphasized the importance of continued investment in technology in ensuring the U.S.’s status as a top nation.
“We are a technological nation, and we cannot lose the advantage that we have over other nations,” Powell said. “It is important that if our nation wants to stay on top, we have to continue investing in technology.”
Powell also expressed his disappointment regarding the country’s race relations. In response to the recent racially charged incidents which have taken place on the University’s campus, Powell offered a message of strength and support for minority students.
“I think the college administration and the student bodies have to push back against this kind of thing. But don’t let one nut with a spray paint can destroy the community that exists in the University. There will always be folks like this — I’ve faced them throughout my life,” Powell said. “My own attitude has been, you can call me anything you want, but watch me, I’m going to do my job. I’ve always felt that those who’d like to look down on me because I’m Black or because I’m an immigrant or because I didn’t go to the right school — that’s their problem. I’m not going to let it become mine.”
He also encouraged people not to let the racist actions diminish the University’s overall reputation.
“We should push back with all the pressure we can against those who feel this way and believe these things, but we can’t do it by destroying the school or by having actions that are not in good order — or discipline, as we would say in the military — and if it’s one or two people, don’t let them turn upside down a university of 40,000,” he said.
LSA senior Daniel Wu also shared Winter’s feelings and talked about his excitement to learn from Powell.
“I like going to events where there are famous people coming to campus,” he said. “I love attending events on campus because there are so many interesting things happening and you just learn a lot. I love when famous people come to campus because they’re really interesting people with interesting stories.”
Powell ended his conversation with Gallimore by stressing the importance of taking care of one another and understanding the responsibility that each individual has both to others and to the country.
“Kindness is something you can give away, and you’ll never understand the impact that you had on another,” Powell said.