Colin Powell delivers Spring Convocation address

Former U.S. Secretary of State General Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.) delivered the address during Elon’s Spring Convocation for Honors April 4 in Koury Center. Powell and Elon trustee Warren G. “Dusty” Rhodes received honorary doctor of laws degrees during the event. Details...

Powell’s address highlighted the convocation, which recognizes academic achievement and philanthropy. He told the audience of more than 2,600 people that in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the United States must continue to be an open nation, one that accepts people regardless of where they come from.

“We’re entering a very dangerous period, where the terrorists may try to strike us again,” said Powell. “What the terrorists can’t do is change us from being an open, welcoming nation. As long as we don’t change the essence of who we are, we will defeat terrorism.”

Powell also discussed the U.S. military intervention in Iraq, which began in 2003. Powell said the U.S. and its allies must see the operation through to its conclusion.

“Whether you supported what we did three years ago or not, we are where we are. We cannot let terrorists continue to kill innocent civilians with bombs.” Powell echoed the same theme in discussing Afghanistan. “We must finish the job. Our young men and women did a great job of giving the Afghan people freedom.”

Powell reminded students in the audience that the world will need their leadership skills, which they should be developing now.

“Leadership is leadership is leadership. At this stage in life, you’re learning how to be a good leader, and being a good leader means first being a good follower. As a leader, people are counting on your integrity. Start training now. You are the next generation of leaders.”

Globalization will allow ideas to flow more freely around the globe, Powell said, and American students must be ready for it.

“The world is flattening. Globalization is sweeping the world. The world you are preparing yourselves for is a world of competition.”

Powell, who championed the power of diplomacy as Secretary of State from 2001 to 2005, said he sees opportunities in a changing world, despite its challenges.

“At the State Department, I faced challenges unlike any I had seen in my 35 years in the military. The world had changed; there were problems like AIDS and terrorism. But a lot of good opportunities have been created.”

For the first time, many parts of Asia and Europe are tasting democracy, with the end of the Cold War and the opening of Chinese society, Powell said. “Colonialism and the Iron Curtain are gone. They have been replaced increasingly by democracy. China has opened up, and I’m optimistic about the future of U.S.-Chinese relations. For the first time in my life, we are not facing a war in Asia, and I don’t see one in the lifetime of my children.”

Powell said the world will continue to look to the U.S. to help solve major world problems, including the situation in the Middle East, which he says “needs a resolution to assure peace in the rest of the world.” U.S. leaders will always carry a tremendous burden to help solve problems because the rest of the world respects America.

“We are still the nation that people look to for help in solving their problems,” Powell said. “They know we are a sovereign nation that seeks dominion over no one.”

Powell drew laughs when he told the audience about his first experience flying as a private citizen after having his own private plane as Secretary of State. Arriving at Reagan National Airport to take the shuttle from Washington to New York, Powell said, “I did a few things wrong. I showed up with no luggage, no reservations and I paid with cash. I had the total attention of airport security!”

Powell and Elon trustee Dusty Rhodes received honorary doctor of laws degrees during the convocation. Rhodes has supported academic and athletic programs and scholarships at the university, and provided gifts to help fund the construction of Rhodes Stadium.