Colin Powell: The Meeting He’ll Always Remember

By Diane Dragan

In case you missed it, from our July/August issue: Colin Powell reflects on the wisdom he’s gained from his years of public service and the values that sustained him in tumultuous times, in an excerpt from his book It Worked for Me.

One way to see the greatness of our country, Powell believes, is through the eyes of young adults who come to America as part of student-exchange programs. “You never can tell what kids are really seeing (much less control it), but they are always seeing and always judging. If we can provide them with rich enough experiences, they’ll take away something good that they can use to make their own and other peoples’ lives better.”

Read the story in his own words »

Also worth a look: At a book signing at Fort Hood, Powell talks openly about the life lessons he’s learned and his 13 rules for living. One favorite? “It’s always better in the morning.”

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Colin Powell: The Meeting He’ll Always Remember

Former secretary of state Colin Powell recalls two young visitors who sharpened his vision of our country’s greatness.

By Colin Powell from "It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership"

Colin Powell: The Meeting He’ll Always RememberPhotograph by Martin H. Simon
In his new book, It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership, Colin Powell reflects on the wisdom he’s gained from his years of public service and the values that sustained him in tumultuous times. One way to see the greatness of our country, he believes, is through the eyes of young adults who come to America as part of student-exchange programs. They notice things we overlook, and they are amazed by the kindness and generosity that we sometimes take for granted. Here he shares some funny and moving memories, beginning with a program he launched in 1997 with the United Kingdom. It worked like this:

I would find two young Americans to spend time with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, and the late Robin Cook, who was then the U.K. foreign secretary, would send a pair of young Brits to hang out with my staff. It worked great, and it was fun for me to check on how the kids were managing to wrap their brains around our vast, complex, and strange organization. It was especially fun on their last day when I’d bring the youngsters into my office and let them phone their “mums” back in the U.K. After they and their parents had rattled on awhile, I’d take the phone for a minute and chat with the parents, which always pleased everybody.

The program continued under Jack Straw, Robin’s successor. By then, a way to improve it had come to me. “We both go out of our way to pick kids who are over-achievers and professional winners,” I told him. “Maybe you could send a couple who are not on their way to Oxford or Cambridge?”

He got it! Did he ever! He sent two young men who were not college-bound and came with all kinds of troubles behind them. They’d had run-ins with the law. They’d been busted for drugs. Their dress was not Savile Row but council housing (public housing).

During their two-week stay, they met important people, visited our monuments, and spent a day with me. I took them to meetings at State and even to a congressional hearing. They saw what a secretary of state actually does for a living. That afternoon, I took them to the White House, and we wandered around the fabulous 18 acres. When we got to the Rose Garden, I suggested that we check to see if the president was in the Oval Office. If he was out, we could see it. Surprise, surprise—I had called President Bush earlier and explained that I was bringing these boys with their troubled histories to the White House. I knew he would be in.

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