A packed auditorium of eager attendees turned out to Don Bosco Prep Tuesday night to hear Madeleine Albright, the first female Secretary of State in United States history, speak about her life, her political views, and her new book.
The 75-year-old career diplomat, who served as Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton from 1997-2001, shared with the crowd her advice for John Kerry, who recently took over her former role.
“Foreign Policy is just trying to get some other country to do what you want,” Albright quipped.
When asked what specific advice she’d have for Kerry, Albright replied, “I’ve already told him.”
Kerry, who she identified as a longtime friend and political candidate she supported, will need to tackle big issues – she mentioned terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the gap between the rich and the poor, energy issues, the environment, global pandemics, the financial crisis and restoring democracy - by making international partnerships, she said. According to Albright, none of the big issues in America can be dealt with without cooperation between the US and other nations.
Her advice for Kerry was among numerous topics Albright covered in her talk Tuesday night, during which she answered questions posed by moderators about her life, opinions and new book, Prague Winter, A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948.
According to Albright, after spending the first decade of her life in Europe, she was raised in a Czechoslovakian Catholic family in the US.
In the days leading up to being sworn in as Secretary of State, Albright found out her family had a secret past she had not known about. Her discoveries about her family, which included that they were Jewish, that her family ran from persecution twice - first from Hitler and the Nazis and second from the Soviet Union - and that her grandparents were killed in concentration camps, is the basis of her book.
“It is one thing to find out [after so many years] that you are Jewish,” she told the crowd. “It is another to find out you were so personally impacted by the Holocaust.”
Albright used the book to point out political and diplomatic lessons that she feels can be learned from World War II, and still applied today.
“We have to look at the unintended consequences of our decisions,” she advised. “And, [WWII] shows us how fragile democracy really is.”
Albright’s visit to Ramsey was part of Bosco’s Distinguished Speaker Series, which is co-sponsored by Bookends in Ridgewood. She is also the former boss of Ridgewood Mayor Paul Aronsohn, who was on hand Tuesday night.
According to the school’s Director President Fr. James Heuser, her appearance was an important one not only for the school, but for the Bergen County community.
A school can "help people consider wider issues,” he said. “To bring someone here of such international historical import is a good thing [for local residents].”
The crowd agreed.
“She is a role model for me,” Joanna Smith, a 25-year-old recent grad school graduate from Paramus, said. “She is someone I can try to model myself after, in a world where we seem to produce sub-par examples all the time.”
Washington Township resident Elizabeth Murrell added she though it was a “good thing that [Albright] came to Bergen County. We have a lot of immigrants here, and I think we can relate to her story.”
“Having the privilege to hear her speak is definitely something that I will hold dear and remember,” Smith said.