Former Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Temple University this week to talk about leadership, reflect on his family’s Philadelphia ties, and to cut the ribbon on a new Veteran Student Center in Conwell Hall on the corner of Broad Street and Montgomery Avenue.
“I hope that you keep your arms open to veterans and their families who may need help and assistance along the way,” said Powell on Tuesday in the new center packed with university officials and former service members.
During the evening leadership forum, one student posed a question to the national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan and supporter of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton concerning the recent election of Donald Trump.
“As a retired army general, what advice would you give to President-elect Donald Trump?” the student asked.
“Well, in my business you don’t give advice unless you’re asked for it,” Powell responded to a round of laughter from the crowd.
He continued to say that the American people have spoken, and Trump is therefore his president. He did say of the upcoming Trump administration, “If they need [advice], I would give it to them, and maybe they would actually try to use some of it.”
And to the inquiring student, Powell quipped, “Nice try, son.”
With a military career that spanned more than 35 years, Powell was invited to the university to officially cut the ribbon for the new Veteran Student Center and lead a leadership forum sponsored by the mortgage lender NewDay USA.
Before Powell spoke, Temple University President Richard Englert told the room that he was proud of the center opening.
“This will be a one-stop shop for our active duty military and our veteran students,” Englert said.
Situated in a former paper copy center, the new Veteran Student Center will serve the 1,300 veterans studying at Temple University. Laura Reddick, associate director for veteran recruitment, said the new center will help provide the resources veterans need to transition into a civilian lifestyle.
Powell took the podium and shared how, as a former veteran himself, he benefited from programs such as the GI Bill. He then shared how his medical care is part Medicaid and part covered by Veterans Affairs. Finally, he said he was impressed with the growth in veterans at the university.
The former four-star general then made his way to the Temple Performing Arts Center once the red, white and blue ribbon in front of the center was cut. A few audience members struggled to find an empty seat as veterans, ROTC members and students quickly filled the room.
Standing in front of the crowd, Powell said the city of Philadelphia holds a special meaning for him. “My father came to this country through the port of Philadelphia,” he said. “90 years ago, he was an immigrant seeking a better life.” His father and mother both came from Jamaica.
Powell said he struggled with focusing in school, and his grades reflected as much. Joining the ROTC in college helped him find the self-confidence and drive he needed. Powell never planned to be Secretary of State, but one instructor gave a powerful lesson in leadership.
“He told me, ‘You’ll know you’re a good leader when your troops will follow you, if only out of curiosity,’” Powell said, causing the crowd to erupt into laughter.
Powell explained how the message meant a leader needed to inspire their followers and give them a sense of purpose. He said a leader should do their best no matter the job, have a positive attitude and, most of all, be kind.
“Always show more kindness than seems necessary,” Powell said. “The person receiving it probably needs it more than you will ever know.”
During the question and answer session, one student asked how to deal with alpha leaders. Powell responded with concern about “the way people talk to each other in this country.” Whenever he makes a controversial comment, Powell said his assistants usually spend the next day removing and reporting racist and threatening comments from his Facebook page.
Powell was pleased with Facebook and Google’s recent decision to combat false news. Still, he felt American society needs to work on arguments that lead to compromise.
“It’s only through compromise that you can get consensus,” Powell said.
Another student asked him about the millennial generation.
“My advice is, don’t pay a whole lot of attention to what people have to say about you,” he said.