The news of the passing of Gen. Colin Powell punched me in the gut and left me a lot to reflect on. Regardless of political beliefs, I am thankful to Gen. Colin Powell for his tireless public service, contributions, and philanthropy—all of which I benefited from as a student of the Colin Powell School for Civic And Global Leadership.
Less than a month ago, I was extremely excited to watch an online interview of Gen. Powell moderated by his daughter Linda Powell, and hosted by the Colin Powell School, the home of social sciences at the City College of New York, also my alma mater. Never in a million years, I’d have imagined that this was the last time I would see the general, who passed on October 18, due to complications of his cancer and COVID-19.
At the beginning of the 2020 Spring Semester, also my last semester before graduation, I had packed my bags and moved to Washington, D.C. as part of the Colin Powell School’s “Semester in D.C.” program, a program that allowed me to take classes and intern in D.C. While I was afraid and full of anxiety, I was determined and ready for this change. I had been planning for this semester since my freshman year at the Colin Powell.
As a kid from the South Bronx, NY, born and raised in the poor neighborhood of Cristo Rey in the Dominican Republic, I found my way—through hard work and dedication—into an internship at The Heritage Foundation, America’s leading conservative think-tank. Conservatives were explicitly more welcoming than any progressive individual I’ve ever met in my college years, some of them even attended Ivy League schools and other prestigious universities. Despite the overall kindliness of D.C. conservatives, I still could not avoid feeling insecure about attending a public college in New York City.
At one networking event co-hosted by Heritage, I spent nearly 5 minutes trying to explain where, or what, my university is. “I attend the City College of New York,” I told someone I had just met at the event. “Oh, NYU!” he responded. I awkwardly laughed and said, “No, I go to the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership.” “Oh, Colin Powell I know,” he said after finally getting it. At that moment, I instantly realized that I had found refuge in the Colin Powell name.
My not-so-progressive way of thinking throughout college always caused me to bump heads with classmates and professors—a reality that everyone who holds conservative principles or even different ideas faces. But I always felt fond of the Colin Powell School, even with all its left-leaning professors.
I even got in trouble for an extremely fiery reflection paper about General Powell—who had been a guest speaker—on a class I had with Professor Mike Donilon, now Senior Advisor to President Biden. At the time, I was concerned about the lack of subjectivity of Powell’s speech. The entire speech was dedicated to attacking former President Trump. In my paper, which I believe was shared with Gen. Powell, I asked:
“If you [Powell] believe President Trump is so atrocious, do you ever reflect on the unintended consequences of your failed policies that ultimately led to his presidency? I will hold on to my questions until I meet General Powell again.”Reflection on General Colin Powell [D.C. Program], May 11, 2020
I will never get to meet Powell again, but at least I know he would be proud to know that his school, the Colin Powell School, pushes students to unapologetically ask questions and hold power accountable.
Gen. Powell is a prime example of the greatness of the United States. Anything is possible in the U.S. even if you come from Harlem, South Jamaica, Queens, the South Bronx, Washington Heights, Astoria, you name it.
The story of Colin Powell himself—despite political beliefs and foreign policy mishaps—is a remarkable one. A trailblazing soldier who attended the City College of New York who then later became the first Black Secretary of State under the Bush II administration. A life devoted to public service, philanthropy, and helping others.
I benefited from Colin Powell and for that, I will be forever grateful. I am here because of him. Today, let’s cherish his life, accomplishments, and contributions to the youth of this great nation.