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'We're still No. 1': Colin Powell speaks on diplomacy, values at Show Me Center
More than 1,600 people were at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau on Tuesday night to hear retired four-star Army general, statesman and author Colin Powell deliver his speech, "Diplomacy: Persuasion, Trust and Values."
At the outset, Powell noted that it was his first time to visit Cape Girardeau and Southeast Missouri State University, "but at this stage of my life," he jokingly said, "it's good to be anywhere, man. One day you're secretary of state, and the next day you're not. It's depressing."
Powell's good humor was on display throughout his speech.
"When I left the secretary of state post, it began a transition in my life," he said. "I did the only thing I could do to fill the void: I bought a Corvette."
The audience appreciated Powell's sense of humor but, as expected, what he had to say wasn't always to be taken lightly.
Powell mentioned that as he travels around the country speaking and meeting new people, he is always reminded that there are problems with the economy. He compared the current economic crisis with the problems that faced the Founding Fathers and the compromises they had to make in order to found the country.
"That fact that our current leadership, from both political parties, can't come together on something like the budget when the Founders came together for a few months in Philadelphia to build a country is disgraceful," Powell said.
Powell also spoke about education. "We have to become a nation of graduates," he said. "We must mobilize ourselves to educate our children. What we have now is a travesty," he said to applause.
Powell added that the learning process begins in the home and that when he gets to speak with students, he tells them that their future is to be determined by themselves.
"If you work hard and look at yourself as your own role model, you'll get ahead," he said.
On the issue of national security, Powell said that the country is safer now than in the days before 9/11 and applauded the efforts of President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama in keeping it safe. Powell also recounted for the audience something he said he told President Bush while secretary of state.
"I said to him that we need to protect ourselves, but we shouldn't do it like we're afraid of the world. We must remain an open country, open to tourists and students from around the world. If we act like we're afraid and not be open to the world, the terrorists win when we do things like that. What I said to President Bush applies to today's world. The worst thing we can do is forget that we're an open country."
Powell said that in his retirement he has become a venture capitalist and is a limited partner with Kleiner-Perkins, the renowned Silicon Valley firm that spawned Google. He said that he learned from Ronald Reagan what it takes to solve problems.
"What President Reagan taught me is that a leader needs to see beyond the tactical problems that they face and to empower the people in their organization with the ability to solve problems."
Powell added that the role of a leader is to also take care of those he leads, something he learned from his days as an officer in the U.S. Army.
"You have to give the people in your organization a sense of purpose," he said. "A sense of purpose for not just the job they are doing but for what their job does for the community and how it is helping people. Those who perform their job well in an organization should be recognized for their good work as it creates trust between the leader and the team. It is that trust," Powell said, "whether it be in a family or in an organization, that is the glue that holds everything together."
Powell ended his speech with an optimism about America.
"People say to me, 'We're not the way we used to be,' and that our standing in the world has dropped. We're still No. 1, trust me. We're still the one that all countries look to for answers, the one they look to because of our power and uniqueness. We're still the same country that greeted my parents when they came here 90 years ago on a banana boat from Jamaica. We'll continue to lead the world so long as we never forget that we are supposed to dedicate ourselves to freedom."
People who attended Powell's speech were glad he came to Cape Girardeau.
"I enjoyed it," said Charlie Clark Jr. of Charleston, Mo. "I'm glad he took the time to speak in Cape. I liked what he said about how we need to come together as Americans to solve our problems. To me, Powell seems like a man who is better qualified than most to help us do that."
Nathan Johnson of Mounds, Ill., was also pleased with Powell's performance.
"I was impressed that he's still concerned with the country and hasn't disappeared from the scene," Johnson said. "I hope that he inspired the people here tonight to do something for their community."
The Southeast Missourian was a sponsor of the event.
Powell's speech marked the beginning of the fifth season for the university Speakers Series at Southeast. Other series events are talks by Tony La Russa on Nov. 8; Michelle Kwan on March 6; Jeff Corwin on April 10; members of The Second City comedy troupe Nov. 12; and John Legend on Jan. 23.
Pertinent address: Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau, Mo.