U.S. Secretary of State and GW alumnus Colin Powell will address more than 1,500 students, faculty and staff at Lisner Auditorium Friday, almost a year after University officials first requested that he speak. Powell will also take part in a brief ribbon-cutting event before the speech to mark the ceremonial opening of the new Elliott School of International Affairs building.
Although GW officials have been courting Powell for more than a year, they have not been able to bring him to campus until now because of his schedule, said Kathleen Reilly, director of ESIA public affairs.
“You can imagine how busy this man is, with all that’s going on in the world,” Reilly said. She also brushed off suggestions that Powell canceled a visit scheduled for earlier this year and said GW and Powell “never had a firm date to speak.”
More than half of Lisner Auditorium’s 1,500 seats Friday are reserved for students, Reilly said.
Starting at 11 a.m. Tuesday, students will be able to pick up free tickets at the Lisner Auditorium box office on a first come, first served basis. Students must bring their GWorld cards.
Officials from the University and the State Department said members of Powell’s staff have declined to divulge the theme of his speech.
Reilly said Sept. 5, the day when Powell is set to speak, is significant because GW held a cornerstone ceremony for the Elliott School building on that day last year.
Attendees should be seated by 10:30 a.m. Friday, half an hour before Powell speaks, because of security precautions.
University Police Chief Dolores Stafford said through a spokesman that she was “not at liberty” to discuss security arrangements for the event, but said UPD is working with Powell’s security detail. Students must relinquish backpacks, briefcases and cellular phones before entering the auditorium, according to a flyer advertising the event.
Powell earned a master’s degree in business administration from GW in 1971 while serving in the military. Prior to his tenure in the Bush administration, Powell served as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the elder President Bush and oversaw the successful operation to drive Iraqi troops out of Kuwait in the Persian Gulf war. He also spoke at GW’s 1990 undergraduate Commencement ceremony.
Powell’s visit to GW has created a stir around campus because of his efforts to bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians and his role in persuading the American people that “regime change” in Iraq was a cornerstone in the war on terror.
Despite differing opinions surrounding Powell’s performance as Secretary of State, neither the College Republicans nor College Democrats have events planned to mark his visit. The low-key reception Powell will receive is a departure from the hodgepodge of student groups that turned out to protest against and show support for President George W. Bush when he delivered a policy address at the Media and Public Affairs building last October.
Still, many student group members said they are planning to attend the speech.
“I think it’s great that Powell is coming to GW because he is an excellent public speaker, and we are all trying to get tickets,” said Dan Moss, a member and former chair of the GWCRs.
Professors, many of whom will also be in attendance for Powell’s address, had different opinions on whether Powell has been effective in mediating international conflicts.
“During Colin Powell’s tenure as Secretary of State, the United States has faced extraordinary international challenges, particularly regarding terrorism and the war in Iraq,” said Walter Reich, professor of international affairs. “He has managed to guide American foreign policy effectively despite sharp differences with some of our traditional allies and despite significant disagreements within the administration itself.”
Reilly said the new Elliot School building has enhanced the international affairs program, which has seen enrollment increase by 300 students since 2001.
GW plans to use the new $72 million facility to solidify relations with the international community.
“You have the State Department, the World Bank and the (International Monetary Fund) all so close to GW. Many of the graduated Elliot School students often work in these surrounding organizations for their first jobs out of college,” Reilly said.
– Michael Barnett contributed to this report