No Room for Mediocre Women | The American Word

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No Room for Mediocre Women

Maeve Allsup | 10/20/15 9:25am
| Updated 10/20/15 2:46pm

Jaclyn Merica /

Although the United States may not have a woman in the White House yet, popular culture has seen an explosion of powerful women portrayed in television. Some of this year’s most popular TV shows feature women in political power seats: Scandal, Veep, House of Cards, State of Affairs, and Madame Secretary. Many viewers trace the inspiration for these powerful ladies back to the original power lady, Madeleine Albright, who spoke in Bender Arena on Saturday night.

Albright recently guest-starred on an episode of the CBS series Madame Secretary, which revolves around Elizabeth Adams McCord, a character who serves as Secretary of State. “I had so much fun,” Albright said of her experience with the show in an interview with American Word, “I actually helped to write the script.” The Secretary’s favorite line from her cameo is one that she repeats often off-screen: “There is plenty of room for mediocre men in the world but there is no room for mediocre women.”

Albright gave bits of advice to young women hoping to follow in her trail-blazing footsteps: “interrupt, because you aren’t going to be called on,” and, “work exceptionally hard.” “Women do have to be more forthcoming and to promote ourselves,” said Albright in her opening remarks. “It is very important to have women help other women. The single most famous thing I ever said was that there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”

A self-described feminist, Albright is an inspiration and motivation for young women all over the world and has worked continuously to create a more equal playing field. She says that feminism has affected every part of her life. “Because we are more than half the population, not only in the United States but everywhere, it’s a lost resource,” said Albright in an interview with American Word. “I really do think that things are better when women are involved.”

On January 23, 1997, Madeleine Albright became the first woman ever to be sworn in as United States Secretary of State for the Clinton administration. This was the highest-ranking government position that had ever been held by a woman, and today she is regarded as one of the most influential women in American history. Albright was born in the Czech Republic but her family was soon forced into exile. They arrived in the United States in 1948, and Albright attended Wellesley College. During time spent as a stay-at-home mom she took graduate school classes and eventually received a doctorate from Columbia University. Before becoming Secretary of State, Albright worked on Ed Muskie’s 1972 presidential campaign, conducted research at the Woodrow Wilson Center, was Ambassador to the United Nations, and began teaching at Georgetown University.

The former secretary also gave vehement support for her longtime friend Hillary Clinton in her bid for the White House, stating that Clinton is “better prepared to be president than almost anyone who’s ever run.” Despite commenting on the historic significance of having a female president in the United States, Albright points out that other countries have had women in office, and the fact that it has taken the U.S. such a long time to have a serious female candidate speaks to the greater issue of women being left out of American politics.

Making the Walls Shake

When the former Secretary of State spoke at American University, she was greeted with a standing ovation before speaking a word. Her opening comments commended AU’s strong commitment to International Relations and the school’s increasing popularity, and generated laughter from the student body with a mention of the “undefeated football team.” Albright also used these initial comments to set a tone of modesty for her visit to campus as she shared the story of a recent experience in an airport, in which a woman was fascinated by Albright’s security approved liquid containers, but had no idea who the secretary was. When discussing her first day on the job at the State Department the former secretary said, “I thought I could feel the walls shaking just a little bit and I thought ‘when my portrait goes up, the walls will shake’, and they did.”

Advice for College Students: Take risks

Albright also offered advice specific to college students, particularly those who have great ambitions in the nation’s capital. “The world can be both big and intimidating,” said Albright, “You might feel a temptation to start lowering your sights and begin thinking less about your dreams than about the security and safety a particular company or firm might offer. We live after all in an anxious age.” She continued by defining the issue of social stress and criticism within college communities, and lamented the pressure that keeps many students from wanting to stand out from the crowd.

“Now I’m not suggesting that you run around school knocking people down, but I am suggesting that you set goals in life that are more ambitious than job security, financial security, or the kind of security among your peers that comes from following the crowd. To run from risk is to run from life. It’s to give up opportunities that will not come again, and it’s to pursue an illusion, for although we may run from risk, risk has a way of running after us. The point is, not fear about what is out there in the world but to face it head on, and to take advantage of every day that we have, for life is inherently fragile.”

Stand out, stand up

The former secretary commended the AU community for remaining strong and supporting one another in the wake of shocking episodes of street violence that resulted in the loss of two community members, and remembered John F. Kennedy’s 1963 commencement speech, which focused on the importance of working to improve the communities around us.

“Wherever we are, we must all in our daily lives, live up to the age old faith that peace and freedom walk together. I urge you… or actually I demand that you all stand out and stand up on behalf of the values embodied by this university and work on behalf of the peace and freedom, security and justice in our time. We are all counting on you to lead us.”

Following her speech the former Secretary of State answered student questions in a brief session moderated by Ambassador Sally Shelton-Colby, who has a longstanding relationship with the secretary. The two discussed their time together working on Capital Hill, the lack of women working there at that time, and the impressive strides that have been made on that front. “If you’re a woman, you can do anything,” said Shelton-Colby. “Don’t let anybody ever try to tell you that there’s something you can’t do because you’re a woman.”

The entire event provided a motivating and uplifting atmosphere, particularly for the empowerment of young women, but Secretary Albright’s messages of gender equality were perhaps made most relevant by Shelton-Colby’s memory of the Secretary’s granddaughter. “When she saw Secretary Kerry being sworn in, she said ‘I thought only girls could be Secretary of State!’”

Please click here to read the full transcript of American Word’s interview with Madeleine Albright.