Samantha Power, the former US ambassador to the UN and human rights advisor to President Barack Obama, recently spoke to UCC’s Government and Politics Society ahead of her appointment to the Biden administration. Power has been named by the current President to lead the US Agency for International Development (USAid) and like her employer, has strong ties to Ireland. Interviewed by society chairperson Maebh McCarthy to a hundred-plus strong Zoom call on January 28th, Power reflected on her career, current affairs and Ireland’s influence on both.
The former ambassador lived in Dublin until the age of nine before emigrating to Pennsylvania with her mother, Vera Delaney—a kidney doctor, field-hockey stand-out and UCC alum—and brother in 1979. Delaney graduated from UCC with a first-class honours degree in Biochemistry before going on to complete her studies in medicine. Amidst the current pandemic, she continues to practice – a feat characteristic of a strength Power is immensely proud of. In 2008, Power herself received an Honourary Doctorate by UCC for her international influence and support of the School of Law. The prospective lead of USAid told attendees that her Irish background granted perspective on the world stage, highlighting The Troubles and British colonisation as imperative to Ireland’s position on the UN Security Council as one of an empathic peace-broker. Repeatedly, Power revealed her personal philosophy as one built upon empathy.
When asked of her work-life balance, the former ambassador was honest and explained that her roles as a diplomat and mother have often been unruly – one inevitably blurring into another, disrupting the responsibilities of the other. It is a theme explored deeply in her 2019 memoir The Education of an Idealist: an exploration of her life from childhood to her experience as a war correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner, from personal heartbreaks to professional highpoints and vice versa. Speaking of her experience as a woman and mother in politics, Power references an anecdote shared in her memoir, one paradigmatic of the blurred lines: “After failing to get my attention as I participated in a White House conference call on Russia sanctions, [my son] Declan stomped away, muttering, “Putin, Putin, Putin . . . When is it going to be Declan, Declan, Declan.”
The conversation settled finally on a message of hope, where Power shared her advice with students; speaking on the importance of reflection, of failure, of growth and of commitment to change – even when it seems fruitless. Everyone has the power to do better, she explains, but no one can do it all: collaboration is the greatest power.
Maebh McCarthy described the experience of interviewing Ambassador Power as “surreal and inspirational.” The Covid-19 pandemic has confronted the society with many challenges in the migration to a digital space but, in line with her interviewee’s hopeful idealism, the GovPol chairperson said: “All 109 societies in UCC have had to adapt to hosting events virtually, which has proved challenging, but I believe we have really risen to it. I would actually contend that it has also offered some amazing opportunities: if we were operating as normal, we would never have had the opportunity to interview Ambassador Power.”