Michigan Engineering News

A man speaking while several people watch in the background.

Powell conversation draws thousands

The retired general discussed geopolitics, race and wisdom for the next generation.

Written by Nicole Casal Moore and Cara Gonzalez

A man speaking while several people watch in the background.
General Colin L. Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, answers questions introduced by Alec D. Gallimore, Robert J Vlasic Dean of Engineering, Arthur F Thurnau Professor, Richard F and Eleanor A Towner Professor of Engineering, at the annual James R. Mellor Lecture at Hill Auditorium. Photo: Joseph Xu

On international diplomacy, domestic race relations and advice to students, General Colin Powell on Tuesday spoke of patience, kindness and composure.

Powell, former U.S. secretary of state and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff gave the 2017 James R. Mellor Lecture in Hill Auditorium. More than 2,000 people turned out for the talk — a conversation with Alec D. Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering.

The discussion was candid, heartfelt and timely. In response to Gallimore’s question about the current geopolitical environment, Powell offered commentary on North Korea. He believes the nation is unlikely to make good on a nuclear threat primarily because it serves no strategic advantage. An appropriate strategy at this point, Powell added, would be to ignore North Korea’s nuclear tests. Read more about his response in The Ann Arbor News and the Detroit Free Press.

The conversation turned to race relations in the U.S. Powell intimated to Gallimore that 50 years ago, neither of them would be where they are today.

He told the story of a Cheerios ad that featured an interracial couple, and the backlash General Mills received from a subset of consumers. Social scientists showed the ad to a group of children and asked them what they saw. The kids didn’t notice race.

After the talk, in a Q and A for media, Powell nodded to recent racially-charged incidents on U-M’s campus. “I think the college administration and the student bodies have to push back against this kind of thing,” he told the Michigan Daily. “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 closed with some wisdom for students. He told them not to worry too much about the future, and focus, instead, on the present.

A man shaking the hand of a woman in a white uniform.
General Colin L. Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, introduces himself to Teresa Tripodi, ME BSE Student. Photo: Joseph Xu

The general received three standing ovations throughout his talk, and several rounds of applause throughout his talk.

Powell was the first African-American to serve as secretary of state. He was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2001 and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Currently, he serves as chair of the board of visitors of the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership, established in 2013 at his alma mater, the City College of New York. He is founder and chairman emeritus of the America’s Promise Alliance, dedicated to forging a strong and effective partnership to ensure children have the fundamental resources they need to succeed.

The aim of the annual James R. Mellor Lecture is to inspire students and other members of the college community by showcasing an individual whose leadership has contributed to the public good. The lecture is presented in conjunction with the Goff Smith Prize.

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Cara Gonzalez

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