Samantha Power. You are a global leader, a respected scholar, and an ardent voice for peace. As U.S. Permanent Representative to our United Nations, you incisively guide American policy and champion human rights for all.
But your devotion to this nation’s ideals didn’t take root on this soil. Born in Castleknock, Ireland, you gleaned your first lessons in life from a strict Roman Catholic all-girls school and the example set by your mother Vera, a doctor at a time when women typically weren’t. When you and your family immigrated when you were nine—first to Pittsburg and then to Atlanta—you were already enchanted with the United States of America, a place where your mother foresaw better opportunities and where you, in turn, took flight.
You headed to Yale to play squash, covered volleyball for the college paper, and generally began to immerse yourself in a sporty undergraduate existence. But during a summer internship at an Atlanta TV station, you watched the Chinese government crackdown in Tiananmen Square and reset your sights. You graduated Yale as a history major in 1992, got your first job as a journalist, and spent the next four years reporting from the former Yugoslavia in the wake of the Bosnian War. What you witnessed there would enter your consciousness and never leave.
Then you wrote a paper for a class at Harvard Law School that stirred our collective consciousness when it became your Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. In it, you shone a bold and discerning light on the atrocities of Cambodia, Iraq, Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, and Darfur in hope that vows of “never again” would truly mean “never again,” and that a regard for human consequences will, someday, matter most.
You were not yet 30 when you brought your already considerable expertise to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government—as founding executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, and Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy. By 2004, you were one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world and, one year later, U.S. Senator Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisor. After Obama was elected President, you ran the White House Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights before being nominated to your current post. On August 1st, 2013, by a vote of 87 to 10, the U.S. Senate confirmed you as our Ambassador to the United Nations, the youngest person ever to hold the job. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “How to protect against global indifference, rise above global divisions, and uphold the responsibility to act if one can. You have literally written the book on it.”
Ambassador Power, you get dirt under your fingernails, skip the sidelines for the playing field, and bring ground-level perspective to the highest possible realms of decision-making. You venture out in the world in order to know it, and we see that energy and dedication reflected in your life and work—in your advocacy for religious freedom; for LGBT, women’s and human rights; for doing something because despair is not an option; and for public service as a path worth pursuing.
It is your vision and leadership that we honor here today, knowing that your trajectory still has miles yet to go. We are proud to present you with the 2015 Barnard Medal of Distinction, with gratitude, respect… and hope for an ever-brighter future.