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Remembering Madeleine Albright

Last week, Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state and U.S. ambassador to the U.N., was laid to rest. Albright, who passed away in March at the age of 84, will be remembered by many for her leadership, warmth, and persistent sense of humor. As President Joe Biden remarked at her memorial service, “Her name is still synonymous with America as a force for good in the world. Madeleine never minced words or wasted time when she saw something needed fixing, or someone who needed helping. She just got to work.”

To us, she will also be remembered as the beloved president of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, of which we are both recipients. The Truman Scholarship is a premier national undergraduate public service scholarship. Each year, the foundation reviews over 600 applications for our 55-65 scholarships awarded annually. Albright was proud to lead the foundation, speaking of Truman as “a doer, whose plain words and bold actions mended a broken world, saved freedom, and embodied the principles of our nation at its best.”

Albright’s namesake fellowship housed at the Truman Foundation serendipitously led to our joining the Bipartisan Policy Center. From September to May each year, Truman-Albright fellows work a public service job in the Washington, D.C. area, build relationships with assigned mentors, and attend bi-monthly professional development sessions. As fresh transplants from Utah and South Dakota, we wanted to work with an organization that values smart policy and civil discourse. It was important to us that the work we did in D.C. also improved lives back home and across the country, a goal shared by BPC.

During our final session of this year’s Truman-Albright programming, we had the privilege of being addressed by Secretary Albright herself. We were excited to hear her speak, for both her words of guidance and her presence as a political icon. We hoped that, in our short hour together, we might study the character of a person whose decisions have affected countless lives across the globe, who endured many demanding years within the federal government, and who survived political trauma in her own childhood. We were touched by the care she took with us. She spoke to us as equals, unperturbed by generational differences that often work against young, inexperienced public servants. She was interested in our concerns and validated the difficulty of our position as young people entering the fray during a fraught and unprecedented era. Her record and reputation speak for themselves, but Secretary Albright’s humanity and warmth immediately reveals how a single person could touch the world the way she has.

A champion of human rights and democracy, we were struck by her candid, matter of fact personality. Her forwardness was part and parcel of her unwavering commitment to the values she led the United States in defending and upholding. She spoke with an urgency that reminded us that whether or not we see or feel the danger of tyranny in our day to day lives, our attention and sustained leadership is required to defend the freedom of others.

Secretary Albright took personal responsibility for supporting sustainable leadership, not letting her fight for human rights and democracy end with her tenure as secretary of state. She believed in bringing the next generation of public servants with her, by prioritizing mentorship, education, and connection throughout her life. Her willingness to do so serves as a lesson for anyone serious about the fight for democracy. We accept the responsibility of doing so at BPC, where Democrats and Republicans rise above partisan divides to approach issues together. It is only right to honor her life through active commemoration—one that’s rooted in putting in the work.

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