By Madlené Nel
Former United States Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell is passionate about education, a topic he discussed broadly at the MC Rockville Campus on January 30 with a captive audience of students and staff members. Montgomery College President DeRionne P. Pollard introduced him as someone who has been serving the public for more than 50 years through his vision, democratic values, and his passion for youth.
Powell began his speech by expressing his appreciation for community colleges—and how they do not get the credit they deserve for the contribution they make to tomorrow’s leaders. As a child of immigrants, Powell said he knew the sacrifices people make for a better life. Reflecting on his time in the military, the retired four-star Army general said he learned a lot, especially when he worked with young individuals in the field.
He realized that educating and nurturing the future generation was immensely important. He added, “Being an 18-year-old fresh out of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And I know there are many of you out there who feel exactly the same way. That is alright, but getting an education is so important because it is a start towards something.”
General Powell is the founding chairman of America’s Promise, a foundation that works on keeping five promises to children and youth that form the conditions they need to achieve adult success. The promises are that they will grow up with the help and guidance of caring adult relationships, healthy childhoods, safe surroundings, effective education and opportunities to serve others.
He emphasized how important it is for children to grow up with positive people around them because in his words, “children do not listen to what you say, but they watch what you are doing.” He underscored the importance of the community and the nation helping children grow through religion and education. He also told adults to teach children discipline and manners.
The audience seemed to hang on Powell’s every word because his experiences resonated with the crowd. He said, “Life is not easy—and we go through disappointments on a daily basis, but that is what shapes us and makes us work harder.”
Montgomery College student Fatima Raposo summed up the essence of General Powell’s speech by saying, “Any labels or stereotypes that people have put on you is not your problem and will not affect you if you don’t let them. What matters is that you work hard toward your goals. And what makes that easier to do is giving every kid a healthy start by setting a good example, loving them and teaching them.”
Dr. Pollard encouraged audience members to ask questions. One student asked Powell what happiness meant to him. Powell responded, “Happiness comes from being nurtured and from relationships, whether it is your family from birth or the family you make.”
Writer’s note: I came to America to further my education and make a better life for myself and as General Powell reminded us, immigrants came because we (the United States) offered opportunities. “The beautiful part of where I grew up was diversity. We grew up knowing America was about us. All of us were traced back to another place but America could unite us all,” said Powell.
It doesn’t matter where you start in life but where you end up, and I think General Powell’s speech could not have said it any better.