The class of 2010 must help “restore the good name of democracy” across the world, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said at Agnes Scott College’s commencement this month.
Albright told the class of nearly 200 graduates that as the world becomes more complex, they’ll have to challenge conventional wisdom and “use our opinions to start discussions and not to end them.”
Albright’s commencement speech challenged several U.S. foreign policy positions, including former President George W. Bush’s failed search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. She said the search was comparable to other historical fallacies believed by many, including that the Earth is flat, Pluto is a planet and women are the weaker sex.
“Truth is a complex topic,” she said. “We do not know everything that there is to know. … The pursuit of truth in the 21st century is indeed a global one.”
Future American leaders will need to solve complex, international issues such as combating terrorism without creating more terrorists, she said. She also criticized a Wall Street that “splurges with billions of unearned dollars.”
“We are all indeed awaiting your generation,” she said. The United States will need to lead “not as an example of power but as the power of an example.”
Albright, a graduate of Wellesley College, a prominent Massachusetts women’s school, also reiterated the importance of women’s colleges in developing female leaders. She noted that of the three women who have been named secretary of state, two – Albright and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – graduated from a women’s college. (Clinton also attended Wellesley, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Denver.)
“Many female leaders come out of women’s colleges,” Albright said during a post-commencement press conference. “The education is tops. There is a sense of developing leaders. Women have to get to be comfortable with leadership.”
She also added that countries that include women in leadership circles are more stable.
The college also honored Gay McDougall, Agnes Scott College’s first Black graduate and an internationally known attorney and human rights expert. She also serves as the United Nations’ independent expert on minority issues.
McDougall asked students to leverage their passion and impatience as a group to effect real and lasting change.
“We all have the power to transcend and transform the historical moment in which we exist. And that kind of change is never achieved by one individual,” she said.
McDougall and Albright also mentioned former South African President Nelson Mandela as an example for future generations of graduates. McDougall, who has been involved in anti-apartheid efforts since the 1980s, served on South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission that organized the nation’s first post-apartheid election in 1994. Mandela was elected and served until 1999.
“The race for justice is a marathon, not a sprint,” McDougall said, referring to Mandela’s 27-year prison sentence.
Albright now serves as head of the Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm, and Albright Capital Management, an investment advisory firm focused on emerging markets. She was America’s 64th secretary of state and the first female to be named to that position. At the time, she was the highest-ranking woman in the history of U.S. government.
In 1998, McDougall was the first American elected to serve on the United Nations treaty body that oversees the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. She subsequently served as a special rapporteur to the United Nations on the issue of systematic rape, sexual slavery and slavery-like practices in armed conflict.