This week, Georgetown is hosting a symposium celebrating the life and legacy of Madeleine K. Albright, the first woman secretary of state and a professor at Georgetown for nearly 40 years.
From September 29-30, U.S. and foreign policymakers and scholars, including President Bill Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, are joining Georgetown’s Symposium on Diplomacy, a two-day, on-campus event that honors the life and work of Albright and the issues she championed.
Among the attendees will be a group of Albright’s former teaching assistants (TAs), who are participating in events that recognize her impact in the classroom, including a live diplomacy simulation involving a foreign policy crisis — a learning experience that served as a cornerstone of Albright’s course, America’s National Security Tool Box.
Over the course of her teaching career, Albright inspired more than 2,000 students, and her former TAs enjoyed an up-close view of her sharp intellect, humor, guidance and unwavering dedication to her students — whether at her kitchen table grading papers, in discussions on foreign policy in her office or at events with foreign ministers and policymakers. Hear about their remembrances of Albright, in their own words.
‘Her Faith and Hope Was in People’
Mike McKenna (MSFS’10) is a stay-at-home dad and former CEO of an affordable housing nonprofit; Shyam Sundaram (MSFS’10) is a partner and office director of Dalberg,an advisory firm focused on social justice and economic development issues; and Karen Courington (MSFS’10) is a vice president at Google. They were TAs from 2009-2010 and wrote a joint reflection about Albright’s impact on their lives.
“From day one she valued her teaching assistants’ opinions to shape the course. The entire process was collaborative; together we were developing a course that would shape the students’ experience.
Sec. Albright would lecture about the five factors of foreign policy — indeed, it was a cornerstone of her class. But her course was more than the ‘five factors’ of a national security toolkit. It was a course about leading with faith and hope.
‘Women and men for others’ is a Jesuit motto you might overhear at Georgetown. Her faith and hope was in people. An undying faith of the potential of each individual and a hope that with the right tools we’ll achieve better outcomes together. In turn, she made her students feel seen and valued for who they are — and for that we’re all better off.”
Secretary Albright accomplished much and defied expectations in her lifetime. At her core, however, she was a professor. We believe teaching was her passion because she herself loved people and loved to learn. The impression she left upon us is wrapped up in the small things she did that had a big impact on those around her.
-Mike McKenna (MSFS’10), Shyam Sundaram (MSFS’10) and Karen Courington (MSFS’10)
A Bomber Jacket and Aviators
David Trichler (MSFS’11) is the associate director of the Global Research Institute at William & Mary. He was a TA from 2010-2011.
“The highlight each semester was the role-play. As the students joined in the conference room, we would play ‘Hail to the Chief,’ and MKA would stroll into the room with shades and a bomber jacket, at which point the students, stressed to the breaking point, would collapse with applause and laughter.
She would then hold court, asking students to explain their process and thoughts as she provided insight into how decisions may have played out in the actual White House.
After graduation, I became part of the TA alumni crowd, joining up for role-plays once a semester. During an interlude in one of the role-plays, she turned to me. ‘You’re at William & Mary now, yes? You should try to teach this class and put your own spin on it.’
It was typical MKA: generous, empowering and forward-leaning, expanding her ideas and perspective to a broader audience. Teaching the class, both at William & Mary and at W&M’s DC center, has been a joy. And MKA was a consistent guest lecturer, both in-person and via Zoom.
She was a beacon of both hope and steely-eyed analysis — in her words ‘an optimist that worries a lot’ — who always helped you feel that while the world can be a tough place, there is always a path forward.”
Shannon Mizzi (MSFS’18) works on anti-money laundering investigations. She was a TA for Albright from 2017 to 2018 and interned at Albright’s consulting firm in 2018.
“Her work ethic was clearly unparalleled. Over the year that I worked with her, she gave hundreds of speeches, served on multiple boards and committees, visited countless countries and published a New York Times bestseller. With her very busy schedule, she could have easily asked her teaching assistants to take full responsibility for marking papers. Instead, she read and graded every assignment.
The teaching assistants would meet at her home after submitting a preliminary review, and we would go over the grades together. You needed to be very meticulous about the grading feedback you submitted, as Secretary Albright would grade your grading! The Secretary provided a page or more of feedback for each student’s assignment.
She trained her students to write about important and contentious issues in global affairs in a highly professional manner, including by writing memos rather than essays. She wanted each student to leave the class a better writer and critical thinker.
I’m not sure she knew this, but I deeply admired her work on the Genocide Prevention Task Force at the United States Institute of Peace. It helped inform both what I studied in grad school and the early part of my career, which I spent investigating the intersection of corruption and human rights abuses.
It was a great honor to work for and learn from her.”
A Lesson in Humor
Abigail Power (G’17) served as a teaching assistant from 2016-2017 and currently works in foreign affairs.
Everybody knows Secretary Albright was brilliant and accomplished. My favorite memory, though, speaks to her sense of humor.
Years ago, she slipped on the ice and sustained a minor injury, so she headed to urgent care just to be safe. She waited and waited, and finally, frustrated, marched up to the front desk and imperiously (her words) asked the front desk staff if they knew who she was. ‘No dear,’ the woman replied, ‘but we are going to help you figure that out soon!’
Secretary Albright laughed while telling this story and told me to never take myself too seriously and always be able to stop and laugh at myself whenever I was taking myself too seriously.
I met Secretary Albright when I was in my twenties, a young woman just beginning a career in foreign policy, and I idolized her. I felt almost too nervous to talk to her, let alone work for her. I think she could probably tell, and this was one of her ways of making me feel more comfortable.
I will always remember her ability to be simultaneously the most powerful person in any room and the most down-to-earth.
Jamming With the Secretary
Marc Sorel (MSFS’11) is a partner at McKinsey & Company. He served as a teaching assistant from 2010-2011.
“I will most remember her for our unexpected adventure one fall evening in Washington.
It began after class one afternoon. As us three TAs reviewed schedules and papers with MKA, she mentioned offhand that she had to depart soon to prepare for a speech she would deliver at the Kennedy Center that evening.
The event was the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, one of the world’s pre-eminent jazz competitions. I shared some thoughts on the role of jazz in public diplomacy during the Cold War, consuming more airtime than I should have, my enthusiasm as an amateur jazz pianist getting the best of me.
She easily could have moved on to the next item standing between her and the door. Instead, MKA paused and smiled, a twinkle in her eye, and said, ‘So you like jazz. Could you be at the Kennedy Center this evening?’
One enthusiastic yes and phone call later, we were booked for what became an unforgettable night. We floated from box seats to intermission rooms to backstage with musicians and vocalists I had admired for years, all before Secretary Albright found her way from the podium to the drums, where she jammed for a tune or two between competitive acts.
Post-performance, as I departed to catch up on reading and writing that had been shoved aside for a few magical hours, there was MKA, surrounded, the center of the conversation, with no intent of calling it a night anytime soon.”
Reflections From Her Last TAs
Darren Hall (MSFS’22, MBA’22), Vanessa Jarnes (MSFS’23, MBA’23) and Christopher Mohr (MSFS’24, L’24) served as Albright’s teaching assistants from 2021-2022.
“It was evident that her class was one of her leading priorities. When meeting Secretary Albright on Monday mornings, we would often ask ‘How was your weekend?’ She would respond, ‘I spent the weekend preparing for today’s class.’
Above all, we will remember Secretary Albright’s warm heart and genuine interest in other people. Whether it was in a meeting before class or simply a phone call to discuss grading, Secretary Albright would always begin by asking us how we were doing.
She treated all students as if they had something to teach her rather than the other way around. That is something I hope to emulate in my career.”
–Darren Hall (MSFS’22, MBA’22)
“Working with Secretary Albright really reinforced for me the importance of my own voice.
Because she was so interested in feedback and eager to have people speak up in disagreement, the experience allowed me to gain more confidence in voicing my opinions to senior-level officials.
She also taught me to be franker with my opinions. Even with hard discussions with students, she never held back and always gave candid feedback. There were no issues she would shy away from speaking about, including her own mistakes throughout her career.
Working with her showed me the benefits and importance of being direct and doing so in a way that maintains the respect of the receiving party. As someone who would frequently handle difficult conversations in an indirect manner, I thought of this often in the months after working with her and have since tried to change my own work practices after watching her masterful approach to honest communication.”
–Vanessa Jarnes (MSFS’23, MBA’23)
“We got to work very closely with Sec. Albright during our time as TAs. We had weekly meetings before class and weekly meetings on Fridays. Then she would call us at all hours of the day with questions and research assignments.
Getting a call from your boss on a Sunday night usually sucks, but getting a call from Madeleine Albright on a Sunday night was awesome. She also brought us into what she was doing outside of Georgetown.
Sec. Albright had a huge impact on my career. She not only inspired me in the route I want to take in public service, but she gave me valuable life lessons to take that are useful for any career. Not to mention that the lessons from the class and from our casual conversations are directly applicable to the work I do.
Personally, she inspired me to be a better version of myself. She taught me to never do anything less than my best work, speak up when I have something to say, and make sure I bring others along with me on my journey.”