As a young student, Samantha Power had lined up a summer internship with the local CBS sports affiliate in Atlanta during her summer break from Yale, she told graduates at her alma mater.
“I was sitting in a video both taking notes on a Braves-Padres game, when I spotted something out of the corner of my eye, coming from another live feed. It was from Tiananmen Square in China, where students my age had gathered to ask their government to grant them fundamental freedoms. And I watched — frozen, clipboard in hand — as tanks rolled into the square and soldiers opened fire on the protestors,” said Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations:
Watching those students — who were risking their freedom and even their lives for their rights — brought home just how little I had put on the line. I knew that I wanted to be all in for something, and to do what little I could to help people who were fighting for their dignity and freedom. And while I didn’t yet know what that meant, or how I was going do it, my compass had been reset. So when the iconic photo of the man standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square appeared on the cover of Time magazine, I tore it out and put it up in my dorm room as a reminder of what it meant to take real risks.
Her message to students “is that if you want to have a deep impact on what matters to you, don’t do things at remove. Invest yourself fully. Get close,” she said:
- First, getting close means moving beyond approaching an issue through the screen of your laptop or phone, or the filter of someone else’s interpretation, and instead finding a way to get to know individuals whose lives are impacted. …
- [T]o really get close to an issue, you must seek out ways to see the world and its problems from a radically different perspective. …This is tougher than it sounds — especially when it comes the issues you care most about. But it’s in your interest to engage the people you disagree with, rather than shutting them out or shutting them up. Not only because it gives you a chance to challenge their views, and maybe even change them. But also because sometimes they might just be right. …..
- Third, if you really want to make change, it’s rarely enough to get close yourself. You also have to bring other people close with you — helping them see issues that can otherwise feel far removed or invisible in their daily lives…..
- My fourth and final point is that getting close — and staying close — requires patience and impatience at once. Look at the history of any great rights struggle and you will see that when it moved forward at all, it was always in a two-steps-forward, one-and-a-half steps back fashion. Or as the late great UN diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello once put it, “History is not in a hurry.” So if you are setting out to make a slice of the world better, you must go in knowing that real change often requires a long struggle….