Colin Powell’s Advice to Graduates (and all Americans) Rings True

An imperfect American hero died yesterday – Colin Powell. After hearing him speak at my son’s graduation seven years ago, I posted the following. Powell was a good man, but in my view he was used to be the face on a non-righteous cause by his superiors That tarnished his reputation some, but he still had an exemplary career.

My oldest son graduated yesterday from college (a big yay!) and we attended his outdoors graduation on a beautiful, sunny and pleasant morning. We also looked forward to the commencement speaker, former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell. Powell’s speech was humble, poignant and inspiring. The part that resonated with many of the graduates was his academic record, which did not hinder his success.

Powell attended City College of New York (CCNY), as that was the only college he could afford to attend. He said he was not a great student and, in fact, the only way he was permitted to graduate was when CCNY’s leaders decided to add his ROTC straight A’s into the mix. He said his GPA increased to a 2.0, to which the graduates laughed heartily. His point was meaningful. First, he said they have named all of these buildings for me due to my success and my old professors are probably rolling over in their graves.

Second, he said just because you did not graduate with a 3.5 GPA does not mean you cannot be successful. Find your path and work hard. This meant a lot to my son who would be among the significant majority in the beneath 3.5 crowd. It resonated with him to hear words of encouragement that yes, if you work hard, you can succeed. The fact that any graduate can remember portions of a commencement speech, is pretty telling. Powell humorously mentioned that when you think back on this day, remember it was C-O-L-I-N P-O-W-E-L-L that spoke at your graduation spelling it out for everyone.

Powell had other words of advice. Get involved with your community and know the issues of import. And, go vote. He said if you are not registered to vote come see me afterwards. You are the people who must keep politicians honest. And, if you don’t like what they do, vote them out. Our is a great country, but you have to be engaged.

He also noted the beauty of compromise. He said our founding fathers came together and passionately argued over how to govern. The Articles of Confederation were insufficient and they argued over its replacement, our constitution. He said from the outset, we have benefitted from the ability of different points of view to compromise. He encouraged people to use their passion and knowledge to influence others, but be in a position to understand the opposing arguments and compromise.

Finally, he said take care of the environment. He said I am not a climate change expert, but it does not take a scientist to recognize we need to stop putting bad stuff into the air and in our water. We have to be better stewards of our earth. An article in “Stars and Stripes” about his commencement speech can be read with the following link:

Let me close with two final comments. First, Powell agreed to shake the hand of every student, all 940 who graduated that day. Some shakes came with hugs from more demonstrative folks and he took it all in with a great sense if humor. This meant a lot to the graduates and parents.

Second, I am so proud of my son and proud for his achievement. He worked hard to make it and he did. He will be a better citizen, a better employee and a better person because of his education. The esteem of accomplishing such a great task is significant. He is closing this chapter with equal parts excitement, trepidation and melancholy before moving on to a new one. The sadness is he is leaving his home for four years before making a new one. He is leaving friends, but will stay in touch and make new ones. But, the future is in front of him. Places to go and things to see and do. Well done, son. I love you very much.

23 thoughts on “Colin Powell’s Advice to Graduates (and all Americans) Rings True

  1. I was moved by your message to your son and could relate as I also felt that tremendous pride when my son graduated with his BS in Finance and on to get his Masters degree. Regarding General Colin Powell, I had great respect for him and feel he was lied to I order yo get him to back and convince others to back an illegitimate war and that is such a pity that left a stain by his name. I think he was crushed.

      • Holly, agreed. The first clue was when Valerie Plame, the CIA agent was outed by Scooter Libby(who worked for Cheney) to discredit her former ambassador husband, Joe Wilson. Wilson did not find what the Bush administration said he found and he wrote an op-ed saying the Bush administration was lying with respect to his recon. Libby later went to jail for disclosing Plame was a CIA agent to the press. Did Powell know that Cheney had fudged the truth on this issue? What else did Cheney lie about? Keith

      • Cheney was diabolical ( and not just because he shot his friend in the face) he lied and cheated and was very intelligent which made him even more dangerous, unfortunately W wasn’t that smart. I would like to think Powell was in the dark as to the conspiracy but we will never really know.

  2. First of all, my congratulations to your son on the great achievement. This is such a milestone for a young person AND the parents. Your post about Colin was very empathetic. Who is perfect. right? It was not smart at all to say what he said because it was simply not true. And of course, the consequences of that claim were terrible. However, he trusted which sadly is not recommended in those political fields.

    • Erika, see my response to Holly. I think he was used and may not have known some of the reconnaissance was bogus. If he did know, that would be disappointing. Some of the recon was based on Saddam Hussein’s disinformation to mislead his adversaries. Keith

      • Indeed! It was and is difficult to look through the political net of lies. Bush was not a Trump who lied when he opened his mouth but… let’s say… he did not know it any better…

      • True. While Bush disappointed me, Trump acted just like he always has – he acted untruthfully, he acted like a bully and he acted selfishly.

      • PS – Erika, while not surprised how he behaved in the White House, I was surprised by what conservative pundit David Brooks called “equal parts chaos and incompetence” of the Trump administration. I had read he was a poor manager from financial reporters, but how horrible was truly surprising. Keith

  3. This was soooo cool Keith and such an honor. I am so touched and moved by your heartfelt post along with getting a chuckle. What a great man and I truly feel saddened by his loss. 😢 What a lovely message to your son. I can only imagine he is doing great things. Thanks for sharing this❣️

  4. Note to Readers: I saw on PBS last night, an interview between Juan Williams and Colin Powell recorded in 2006. It was a fascinating hour. In a sequel to his above GPA story, Williams noted that Powell graduated second in his Master of Business Administration class at George Washington University. Powell said the Army taught him discipline, work ethic and duty. He said he owed it to himself and his family to do well, since the Army encouraged him to get this degree. He said he uses these book end stories to encourage young students to do their best.

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