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Former U.S. ambassador to UN discusses time in government in new memoir

Sarah Urtz | Assistant Photo Editor
Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations during President Barack Obama’s second term, talked about learning to balance her personal views with her profession responsibilities at the event.

Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power discussed her new memoir at Betts Theater Thursday.

Power, a Pulitzer Prize winner who served in her official role under former President Barack Obama, discussed her new book “The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir” and recounted her career in government. Power spoke with The Atlantic editor Scott Stossel at the sold-out event, which was organized by independent bookstore chain Politics and Prose.

Power said the process of writing the memoir prompted her to re-evaluate different aspects of her life that influenced her current beliefs. She said discussing her past struggles with family and work could allow readers to relate to her and to learn that the feats she has accomplished professionally are not “out of reach” for anybody.

“Rather then it be rarefied, I wanted to make it a very relatable, accessible tale and a complex character who is not just one-dimensional,” she said.

Power said the title of the book refers to herself as she learned to balance her personal views about human rights and other contentious issues with the harsh realities of moving forward and charting progress with foreign governments.

“Part of trying to prosecute your ideals in a large system is just figuring out where you can make a difference even if you’re blocked or if what you’re proposing isn’t working,” she said.

Recalling a dinner she had with a foreign minister during her last U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York City, Power said a U.N. human rights office painted a crosswalk near the assembly building with the colors of the rainbow to support LGBTQ+ rights, a cause Power supported. Power brought the minister – who identified as LGBTQ but was forced to hide his identity in his home country – to the crosswalk.

“He bore a look I had not seen before,” she said. “It combined relief, delight, and a deep calm – it was the look of being fully himself.”

Power also discussed the challenges of working in the White House and the times she felt like she was “not respected” and “not effective.” In the age of President Donald Trump, she said it is vital to refute the idea that “everything America touches turns to coal,” adding that America does have a role to play around the world.

“I see again and again the catalytic power of the United States as a leader, and also I have seen again and again what happens when America walks away,” she said.

Power said staying positive in government is challenging because “the problems are so big” and individuals can “feel so small,” but she encouraged the audience and the book’s readers not to become discouraged and to value helping others.

“The spirit of the book is more basic – can one person make a difference?” she said.

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