'Fill universities, or fill prisons'

Wednesday, September 27, 2000

After 35 years as a soldier, General Colin Powell has found a new battle - one so expansive that it makes his Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and Cold War tours of duty seem small in comparison.

He wants to empower a whole nation of emotionally needy children, and that's a lot bigger fight than three presidents of the United States ever asked of him.

Powell wound up his visit to Buena Vista University with an American Heritage Series lecture Friday night that was more a plea for children's needs than a review of his own life, following an afternoon interrogation by a student panel that Powell laughingly later compared to a "court martial."

Powell also had an opportunity to tour the BVU campus before catching a flight out for a meeting of the board of Howard University, on which he sits. He quickly discovered the fact that Buena Vista had become the first "all wireless" campus in the world, giving all students notebook computers networked to one another and the Internet through wireless transmitters blanketing the campus. "This is what the future is all about," Powell said.

A crowd shimmering with black tuxedos and glittering gowns packed Schaller Chapel to hear Powell present the 11th William W. Siebens American Heritage Series lecture. Powell was animated and relaxed, working without notes, drawing spontaneous applause from the crowd to his remarks about youth, and a long standing ovation at the close.

The retired general's unexpected humor was on display throughout the night, from discussing his early years in the projects of the South Bronx, to an impromptu imitation of George W. Bush's Texas twang, to the ramifications of the Hasbro "Colin Powell G.I. Joe - it's not a doll, it's an action figure." He noted that the "deal" he cut with the toymaker gives all proceeds to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

As Powell retired from the military, and wrote a bestseller with nearly two million copies in print, he discovered his next challenge almost immediately - or to be precise, it discovered him.

"I found that all of my passions, all of my interests, were pulling me toward youth," Powell told the crowd. When all of the living presidents jointly asked him to chair a summit in Philadelphia on America's future, the implications became clear to him, he said.

Read the rest of this article in the 9/26 Pilot Tribune.

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