Madeleine Albright speaks at Commencement
Category: Student Experience

Title: Students and Alumni Remember Madeleine Albright as Their Georgetown Professor

For 40 years, Albright taught more than 2,000 students in the Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS), including future diplomats, government officials and NGO leaders. 

“For all her accomplishments, she always said that first and foremost she was a professor,” says Joel Hellman, dean of SFS. 

A Beloved Professor


On the Hilltop, Albright was known for her rigorous coursework, Socratic teaching method, weekly bagged lunches with groups of students and unyielding support for students’ personal and professional growth in and out of the classroom. 

Despite her global commitments, Albright rarely missed a class and was the frequent recipient of the school’s outstanding professor award. Her America’s National Security ToolBox class — a rite of passage for generations of students — investigated the tools available to foreign policy practitioners. At the end of every semester, she’d host an all-day simulation in which students developed a U.S. response to a foreign policy crisis, often inviting them back to her home afterward. In 2020, she moved the simulation online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students and alumni report that the class offered a real-world glimpse of a foreign policy crisis.

Playing the role of a global diplomat under her esteemed eye was not for the faint of heart but certainly one of my most memorable days at Georgetown,” says Elspeth Williams (SFS’08). “At the end of the day, she strutted in as POTUS in her bomber jacket and asked to be debriefed by her joint chiefs of staff, before offering her own observations of the day. I still get goosebumps remembering that scene.”

Albright taught her last cohort of graduate students in 2021. As students and alumni grieve her death on March 23, 2022, they share first-person accounts of the former secretary of state in the classroom, remembering her sharp wit, academic rigor and endless encouragement to help them find their voice — and their next steps.

Cold Calling in the Classroom Elspeth Williams (SFS'08) with Madeleine Albright

Elspeth Williams (SFS’08) is the senior program officer for global gender equality and women’s health advocacy for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She took Professor Albright’s American National Security Toolbox class.

Secretary Albright was masterfully intentional about how she conducted her classroom. 

She would sometimes read about students and personally invite them to join the class. There was a young veteran in our class whom she’d invited to join after reading his Washington Post op-ed about Georgetown students being apathetic about the Iraq war. She often called on him to solicit his personal military experience. Her teaching assistants prepared short bios on each of us and from the second class she would cold call us by name — which kept us on our toes. 

Elspeth Williams (SFS'08)
Elspeth Williams (SFS’08) is the senior program officer for global gender equality and women’s health advocacy for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Her class was the masterclass in global diplomacy. It was extraordinary to hear her candid examples of employing different diplomatic tools to influence global agendas. Her energy and wit were infectious — I remember the twinkle in her eye recounting the snake broach she wore when negotiating with Saddam Hussein. 

Her class lesson dedicated to foreign aid as a national security tool was one of several Georgetown lessons that influenced my decision to ultimately explore a career in global development. Secretary Albright’s incredible leadership to advance women and girls globally massively influenced the U.S.’s gender equality agendas and personally, helped inspire my own career. 

Her mantra that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” often rings in my mind and reminds me to pay it forward by mentoring young women.

Learning Diplomacy in the Classroom and on the Job

David Hale (SFS’83) is a distinguished diplomatic fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Previously, he served as the under secretary of state for political affairs and as the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan and the special envoy for Middle East Peace and the deputy special envoy. His quotes are excerpted from a video for the SFS Oral Histories project in 2019. 

I was in Madeleine’s first class at Georgetown. In the class, we all played a role model as a team of national security advisors and heads of different departments. I remember I played the secretary of the Air Force. We were debating what to do about the MX missile. 

She taught me so much about diplomacy and particularly that our nation’s strength is based on our values, the strength of our economy, the strength of our military, and that was something I’ve carried with me throughout my career.

Oddly enough, when she went back into government as the permanent representative in New York, she invited me to join her, and so I worked with her there. I was one of the action officers dealing with the campaign to elect a new secretary general of the U.N. [United Nations], Kofi Annan. When she became secretary of state, I went down as her executive assistant to Washington and spent two years by her side doing, watching and learning all the things a secretary of state does. 

That was just a phenomenal experience that has taught me so much, and it was a perspective that is very rare to be able to have. A real honor. I apply that all the time because I am better able to anticipate what a secretary of state needs to get his or her job done.

When the Former Secretary of State Drives You Home

Jakub Hlávka (MAGES’14) pictured with Madeleine Albright at an event in 2014.

Jakub Hlávka (MAGES’14) is a research assistant professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles who has worked on projects funded by the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, NASA and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Originally from the Czech Republic, his work spans both continents and focuses on national security and health policy. After graduating from Georgetown, Hlávka completed his Ph.D. and worked at RAND, a research organization, and in biotechnology before returning to academia. He took Albright’s graduate seminar on U.S. national security. 

I sent a letter to Madeleine Albright when I was 17 in which I expressed how much I enjoyed reading her book, Madam Secretary. In her response, she commented on my academic interests and wrote, “I think you are considering a wise choice for your future studies,” the ultimate stamp of approval a student might get when deciding on next steps in high school! 

Years later, I was in her graduate seminar on U.S. national security. She provided insightful, constructive comments on our presentations and papers and took us seriously — setting a very high standard for other professors I have had since (and a standard I try to emulate in my own teaching). But the things that will stand out the most are the lighter moments in and outside of the classroom, which showed how down-to-earth and supportive she was. 

One that stands out was at the end of a private dinner I had with her and a few other Czech students off campus. There was heavy rain that evening, and when she saw us waiting for a bus, she offered to drive us home. She spent the late evening getting us to where we needed to go to avoid the storm. Sitting in her car, I could not help but remember that first interaction I had with her as a high schooler and how things ended up coming full circle. I realized that something like that would probably not happen with any other secretary of state (or foreign minister of another country). 

“Her humanity and interest in helping young people find their voice will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

–Jakub Hlávka (MAGES’14)

I can only imagine the great number of other people who have been touched by Professor Albright in a similar way.

‘She Genuinely Cared’

Liz Alarcón (MSFS’15) in a class with Madeleine Albright.

Liz Alarcón (MSFS’15), pictured on the far left in the second row, is the founder and executive director of Pulso, a digital media start-up that serves more than 1 million Latinos across the U.S, and a political commentator on U.S.-Latin American relations and Latin American politics. She was in Albright’s National Security Toolbox class.

Liz Alarcón (MSFS’15) is a political commentator and the founder of a digital media start-up.

I remember we ran a NATO simulation of an emergency meeting on Russian aggression in Estonia and Latvia. My role was White House communications director. Professor Albright got fully into character and made up epic scenarios we had to respond quickly to. We had to ask ourselves some of the same questions the Biden administration has had to grapple with in Ukraine today.

After class, she invited all her students to her home for dinner and spent time getting to know us. That day was the aftermath of a brutal election season in Venezuela, I remember, and she asked what I thought would happen next and how my family was doing. She genuinely cared.

Professor Albright reached the highest echelons of power and still kept her style, her wit and her dedication to her students. She was always kind and accessible while being a brilliant negotiator who believed fiercely in democracy and in this country. That combination of values is what made me want to emulate her most. 

Along with running my media start-up, I am a political commentator who shares analysis on U.S.-Latin American relations and Latin American politics for local, national and international media outlets. I keep a foot in the foreign policy world, a deep passion of mine, in large part because of the example Madeleine Albright set for me as a woman in this field. She showed us how to lead and be as ourselves in a male-dominated field, and so I carry her example with me, always.

Encouraging a Future Foreign Minister to Speak UpTaro Kono (SFS’86)

Taro Kono (SFS’86) is a nine-term member of the House of Representatives in Japan. Previously, he served as the foreign minister and defense minister of Japan and oversaw the country’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. During his first year at Georgetown, Kono took Albright’s American Foreign Policy Process seminar. The following quotes are excerpted from his 2018 speech at Gaston Hall and a subsequent interview for the SFS Oral Histories project.

I went to her first class, and Americans started talking. My English wasn’t good, so I was just listening to the others talk, and she said, ‘You stay after the class.’ And she said to me, ‘Well, if you’re not going to participate, you don’t have to come.’ So I said, ‘Well, I’m a Japanese student and my English is at this moment not good enough.’ She said, ‘Well, that’s your problem.’ So I’m like, oh my God, I gotta do something. 

After that, I tried to speak first, because it’s pretty difficult to cut in when American students are talking to each other. Someone still might talk, but I did my share for the class. I had to do something in the seminar all the time. That helped me a lot.

In 1996, Kono was elected to Japan’s House of Representatives at age 33. The following year, Madeleine Albright was appointed secretary of state and visited Tokyo. 

We had a kind of emotional reunion when Secretary Albright came to Tokyo. The American ambassador invited me to his residence to see her, and it was very nice. 

Right after that, my father became the foreign minister [of Japan] again. So, he was Dr. Albright’s counterpart. When they met for the first time, the newspaper said the next morning, “Foreign Minister and the Secretary of State Talked about the Most Important Bilateral Issue.” So I asked him, “Foreign Minister, what was the most important bilateral issue that you talked about with the secretary of state?” And he said, “Well, we talked about your grade on her term paper.” I said, “Dad, I got an A on that paper!” [laughs]

In the years following, Kono said he met with Albright from time to time. In 2021, he ran for leadership of the country’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan. 

I never thought we would be former secretary of state and incumbent foreign minister. It’s kind of nice. I mean, American foreign policy process was what that seminar was all about, so that’s something I am trying to do.

On Briefing – and Disagreeing – With Madeleine AlbrightOmar H. Noureldin (SFS'10)

Omar H. Noureldin (SFS’10), pictured on the far left in the second row, is a civil and human rights lawyer, law professor at USC Gould School of Law and consultant for a diversity, equity and inclusion consulting firm. He took Albright’s American National Security Toolbox course and served as her teaching assistant.

Noureldin (SFS’10) served as Albright’s teaching assistant while he was an undergraduate.

My most nerve-racking educational experience was being one of two students selected to “brief” Professor Madeleine Albright, who played the role of president of the United States during the day-long international crisis simulation for her course. She asked tough and probing questions while being patient and kind. The following year, she asked me to come back and help lead the simulation. So, I guess I did okay!

During class discussions and my time working for her as a teaching assistant in college, we did not always agree on U.S. foreign policy and grand strategy issues. But, she always listened to me (and others) who disagreed with her and acknowledged our positions’ intellectual and principled merit. Moreover, she was fair and open-minded — even after decades of foreign policy leadership.

She was a rigorous, sharp and warm professor in the classroom. Outside the classroom, she was jovial, laid-back and inviting. I learned from her, and she said she learned from me. She was generous like that. Rest in peace, Madam Secretary. 

Advocating for Women in the Classroom and in National Security

Hannah Beswick (MAAS’14) and Madeleine Albright
Hannah Beswick (MAAS’14) with Madeleine Albright at her home in Washington, DC.

Hannah Beswick (MAAS’14) is a global affairs specialist whose work has spanned the United Nations, government and academia. She is currently on a sabbatical. Until 2021, she served as the partnerships lead at the United Nations Women’s Liaison Office for the Gulf Cooperation Council, managing strategic partnerships across the Arabian Gulf to accelerate progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment. She participated in Albright’s America’s National Security Toolbox class.

In the fall of 2013, I won the academic jackpot: a spot in Secretary Albright’s infamous graduate seminar, America’s National Security Toolbox. On our very first day, she quite directly told the entire class, a 50:50 women-to-men ratio, that she knows women often don’t speak up first — in class or in the briefing room — for fear that they may say the wrong thing. She advised us against this, as she knew we would be kicking ourselves once someone else — “usually a man” — would speak up first. She was, of course, right. 

Throughout the semester, I noticed her proclivity to assign roles to women in our political simulations that were more often filled by men in reality. Upon reflection almost a decade later, I now realize how this subtly shaped the way many of us came to see our future potential abilities as individuals and to acknowledge our collective capacity to work together in international affairs and national security. 

During one simulation, I was “appointed” Secretary of Defense — and my male colleague as secretary of state. We briefed Secretary Albright, who always played the president, advising the U.S. to provide economic assistance to Libya. This was my first brief ever given, and I don’t think I had ever been so nervous to deliver an oral presentation.

Beswick celebrates United Nations Day, an annual anniversary of the UN charter, in 2019.

I have a very distinct memory of speaking lightning fast and her smiling and gently motioning for me to (very kindly) slow down. She followed up with pointed, thoughtful questions and set a very high bar for the kind of back-and-forth to be expected in a real-life briefing with senior-level officials. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, I don’t think I’ve ever had a class that both realistically prepared me for my professional life in international affairs and allowed me to truly enjoy the learning process.

She took the time to get to know each of us, having us bring our bagged lunches three at a time to sit with her for lunch during the semester. I had formerly served in the Peace Corps in Morocco, and I can still remember her asking me, intently, what my thoughts were about youth development in Morocco, given my two years spent there focused on engaging with this demographic. 

She told me that my work was important, and that I needed to share my knowledge and experience with others. 

I don’t know how to quite convey this feeling in words, but Secretary Albright, with her lifetime of accumulated knowledge and experience of the world, telling me that what I did was important, that what I did mattered – that is something that will never leave you.

–Hannah Beswick (MAAS’14)

Shaping a Foreign Officer’s Career in the State DepartmentGeoff Odlum (SFS'89

Geoff Odlum (SFS’89) manages a consultancy that advises emerging technology companies on conducting business with the U.S. government. Previously, he worked as a foreign service officer for the U.S. State Department for 28 years, serving in London, Algiers, Vienna, Istanbul, Baghdad, Kabul and Washington, DC. He took Albright’s Modern Foreign Governments class in 1987 and later worked with Albright in his roles in the State Department.

She was admittedly intimidating at first. She placed very high expectations on her students in terms of the volume and complexity of the reading and writing assignments and our in-class participation. She did not want any students in the class who weren’t serious about learning, because she knew how important this topic was in the real-world.  

Her breadth and depth of knowledge about foreign governments, their leaders and their policy processes was remarkable. She also occasionally revealed a wickedly dry and subtle sense of humor, and toward the end of the semester, once we had proven ourselves, she spent significant time in more motivational mode, addressing us as “future diplomats and leaders,” encouraging and empowering our generation to carry forward the values and ideals that, in her words, made the United States the world’s indispensable nation. 

Geoff Odlum (SFS'89) speaks at an INTERPOL conference.
Geoff Odlum (SFS’89) spent 28 years as an foreign service officer at the U.S. State Department, serving in London, Algiers, Vienna, Istanbul, Baghdad, Kabul and in Washington, DC.

I remember her “call-to-action” in class on the final day. She said something like: ‘You are the future foreign policy leaders this nation needs to ensure America’s global leadership and to keep human progress moving forward.’ That was the moment I started to think very seriously and realistically about a career in the Foreign Service.   

In 1995, Odlum was serving in the State Department’s Policy Planning office. Over the course of the next year, he met with Albright, who had been appointed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and other team members to discuss the breakup of Yugoslavia, the war in Bosnia, the Dayton Peace Process and other issues.

Listening to her explain the confounding personalities and complex dynamics of Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian leaders was like being at Georgetown again: It was a masterclass in distilling a wicked problem into clear relief and then navigating us toward the logical policy solutions. In one of these early meetings, I reminded her that I’d been her undergraduate student eight years earlier, and she was thrilled. She gave me a smile and a wink and said ‘Aren’t you glad now that you did all the homework?’


Secretary Albright’s worldview, which I would call values-based realism, instilled in me the sense that America is indeed exceptional in the world, but also that we cannot act alone, that we must always strive to build and expand the coalition of the world’s peaceful, open democracies and maintain vigilance against the world’s authoritarians, to ensure our own security. This wasn’t just an academic lesson to her. 

For the rest of my State Department career, and indeed for the rest of my life, I have shared this worldview. This is why I consider Dr. Albright to have been one of the most formative and consequential secretaries of state in American history. 

On Speaking Croatian During Office Hours Luka Ignac (MSFS’22)

Luka Ignac (MAGES’22) is a McHenry and Huffington fellow in SFS. He was in Albright’s last class in fall 2021.

I have been admiring Secretary Albright’s work since I was in high school in Croatia. I will never forget walking into her office for the first time and her speaking to me in Croatian. To say the least, I was surprised.

Secretary Albright’s simulations were a trademark of her class and inspired a lot of fear among students. Prior to the simulation, Secretary Albright told me jokingly, “You will be the first foreign U.S. secretary of state, take advantage of it.” I felt a lot of pressure to prove myself during the simulation both to my amazing classmates as well as Secretary Albright. Weeks of preparations went into ensuring that my briefing folder was ready for the game day. 

I forever cherish the note I received from her following the simulation that said, “You did a first-rate job outlining the specific objectives you hope to achieve as secretary of state and your strategy for how you plan to achieve those goals.”

Secretary Albright was an incredible force through her dedication to defending democratic values and standing up to dictators. She never hesitated to use her voice, and I hope to be able to do the same in my life. 

Professor Albright’s Last Graduate Student Cohort Carries on Her Legacy Students in Dr. Albright’s last graduate student cohort.

Students in Albright’s last graduate student cohort issued a joint statement on March 24 mourning her loss and reaffirming their commitment to her values and her legacy. The following is an excerpt from their statement.

Just as she had for our predecessors, Secretary Albright left an indelible impact on our understanding of U.S. national security, teaching us how to combine five tools of statecraft together to implement policy. Between COVID-19, worldwide attacks on democracy and innumerable other challenges, she conducted our class under unprecedented circumstances. 

Secretary Albright always highlighted the importance of the individual decision-maker and in turn took interest in each of us: our careers, our goals and our evolution throughout the semester. She encouraged us to speak out, challenge each other and share our diverse perspectives. Secretary Albright’s humor and wit made every seminar an unforgettable experience. Her engaging stories taught us how to rigorously use past examples to analyze the present and future – and the valuable insight and lessons we can learn from those who came before us.

Today we reaffirm our commitment to promote a more just, fair and prosperous world in her memory. Secretary Albright championed democracy and the power of multilateralism relentlessly — and we must do the same. As the first woman and refugee to become secretary of state, she also never stopped advocating for women’s rights, human rights and the right of all people to live free from violence and discrimination. It is our duty to carry on this legacy.