Former Secretary of State Colin Powell presented GW alumna and Undersecretary for Veterans Affairs Tammy Duckworth with the inaugural Colin Powell Public Service Award Thursday night at the Museum of American History.
The award was presented to Duckworth during the event – titled “A Celebration of Service” – which recognized the role that GW and alumni like Powell and Duckworth have played in many different fields of public service. Duckworth, who received her master’s degree in international affairs in 1992, is an Iraq war veteran and amputee.
The event was held en lieu of the President’s Dinner, a fundraising gala which each year brings together prominent donors to the University.
“I am deeply honored to have such an award named after me,” Powell said while presenting Duckworth with her award. “The greatest honor of all tonight for me is to know that this hero is the inaugural recipient of this award.”
The event was hosted by NPR Senior News Analyst Cokie Roberts and her husband Steven Roberts, a professor at GW’s School of Media and Public Affairs, and attended by prominent members of the GW community and members of the GW Veterans Community.
“That’s really what we’re here to honor tonight,” Mrs. Roberts said. “The people who work hard to protect this union through public service.”
Duckworth shared some of her own personal experiences with the crowd, including losing both her legs and partial mobility of one arm when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq.
“Secretary Powell thank you, I have looked up to you since I found ROTC veterans like myself,” Duckworth said while accepting her award. “The greatest honor of my life has always been the privilege of serving in uniform.”
Duckworth spoke about her own mother volunteering at a soup kitchen, and emphasized the need for Americans to serve in any way they can.
“Our nation is strong not because of our guns, tanks and helicopters, but we are strong because of the ideas and values that build this nation,” Duckworth said. “The strength of our democracy comes directly from the character and the diversity of the American people.”
Powell also reiterated the service theme of the evening, saying that it was necessary for privileged Americans to help the less fortunate.
“There are kids who will never get to George Washington University because we can’t get them out of high school,” Powell said. “All of us need to do more to give back.”
The event also focused on the importance the University places on encouraging students to engage in public service.
Both Steven and Cokie Roberts cited the fact that GW students have been ranked by the Princeton Review as the most politically active in the nation, and mentioned as well the large number of graduating seniors who go on to work for nonprofit organizations such as Teach for America.
Mr. Roberts shared anecdotes with the crowd about some of his past students who are now deeply connected to the public service field in Washington D.C.
“This is what this University does,” Mr. Roberts said. “It inspires these young people to get involved in this life, in the fabric of this country.”
During the evening, University President Steven Knapp announced the creation of a new program, the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service, which, Knapp said, will “provide [the] support and guidance students need to find fulfilling career paths.”
“We want to provide the best atmosphere for people to come here and decide who they want to be,” University Trustee Robert Tanenbaum said during a video shown at the event highlighting some of GW’s service initiatives. Tanenbaum was instrumental in the formation of the center, Knapp said.