Since the Benjamin Cooper Memorial Lecture was established in 1998, the lecture fund has enabled GDS to bring a renowned guest lecturer to the school each year to stimulate the kind of dialogue in which Cooper loved to participate, with a variety of diverse and inspiring world leaders. This year, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power spoke, delivering two speeches to members of the GDS community both at the Washington Hebrew Congregation and on campus during a Friday assembly.
Power gained attention with the publication in 2003 of her Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which helped to establish her as a leading international voice for American engagement in the world. She drew on her past experiences reporting from places such as Bosnia, East Timor, Kosovo, Rwanda, Sudan and Zimbabwe to develop authentic solutions to address understated global genocides.
A tireless crusader for U.S. foreign policy, Power served as the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights on the National Security Council under President Obama. She later became the 28th Representative to the United Nations during Obama’s second term. She served as the public face of U.S. opposition to Russian aggression in Ukraine and Syria, lobbied to secure the release of political prisoners and continued to resolve conflicts and defend human dignity on various accounts.
The speech at Washington Hebrew outlined Power’s guide to the many steps necessary to make a change, even when it seems hard. The first step is to change what seems possible. Power said that what we see as members of the international community shapes the conceptions of people in numerous places. For example, in the media, if more images show females in positions of power, an increasing number of younger girls will feel inspired and capable to accomplish the same.
“We have to recognize what is fake and what is not, and be skeptical but not too skeptical that we seize to take action,” Power said.
Power’s next point was there is always something people can do to facilitate change. For example, Power mentioned the “Stronger Than Hate” image that was projected onto the walls of Heinz Field within 24 hours of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. She said it sent a message of unity in the Pittsburgh community that took little effort but brought hundreds of thousands of people together.
“There is always clear asymmetry between the scale of a problem and the scale of a solution,” Power said.
Power’s final point was to encourage all Americans to become more involved in politics, whether through voting, the media or activism on a smaller scale.
“Media weapons are more powerful than atomic bombs,” Power said, insisting that political polarization is the biggest threat to national security.
After hearing Ambassador Power speak, students, faculty and parents seemed inspired by her words.
“Ambassador Power took it a step further than most talks,” freshman Addie Lowenstein said. “She didn’t just tell us to make a change or that change is needed, but how to make an impact, which was a really smart approach for many students who may feel as if change is intimidating.”
Freshman Ken Bailey echoed this sentiment, saying, “I think it’s inspiring to see somebody that sees issues in the world and makes real change themselves.”
Power’s speech at GDS shared the uplifting tone of the night before. Power said she never intended to be involved in diplomacy and foreign relations as a young girl. It wasn’t until Power was exposed to the hate and bigotry in other nations as a journalist that she realized greater change needed to happen and decided to become part of that change.
By Maddie Feldman ’22