The Kids Are All Right
Monterey County high school and college students tackle world affairs with grace
Thursday, March 8, 2001
Monterey County''s young people know the issues. High school and college students from throughout the county filed in from the rain on Monday afternoon to Cal State Monterey Bay''s University Center, eager to catch a photo op with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and ready to show off their command of US foreign policy.
The group of 100-150 students represented all corners of Monterey County from Greenfield to Moss Landing, boasting the racial and cultural diversity that drives the region and modeling a fair share of leather jackets, streak-dyed hair and platform sandals. But as soon as the highest ranking woman in the history of the US government took the stage, the young folks settled quietly into more than an hour of impressive intellectual dialogue about the challenges that faced Albright during her four-year term and musings about what lies ahead.
Albright came to the area as the much-touted inaugural speaker of the Leon Panetta 2001 Lecture Series. In addition to spending a quality hour with the students, Albright addressed a sold-out-as-usual audience at the Monterey Conference Center.
Students posed thought-provoking questions to Albright based on her travels to over 120 countries and negotiations with leaders from around the world, ranging from her experience as the first female secretary of state to upcoming global hot spots to missile defense. Albright jumped with ease from topic to topic, claiming that the role of NATO was no longer anti-Soviet, heralding the fall of former Yugoslav leader Milosovic as her greatest victory and dubbing the energy and oil question as "the scariest."
The one thing you can rely on when tackling any international issue, said Albright, is that "Americans are the most generous people in the world, with the shortest attention spans."
Greenfield High School teacher Bill Benton, who took a cohort of his Advanced Placement history students to the Albright forum, said that his primarily Mexican and Mexican-American students are interested largely in issues of immigration. While the closest Albright got to addressing Mexico was hip-hip-hooraying Plan Colombia, Benton says the interaction with the stateswoman was overwhelmingly positive for his students.
"For these five students, this was really invaluable," Benton says. "It might be taken for granted in Carmel, but not in Greenfield."
And the students were right on the mark, asking questions remarkably similar to those posed by the adult audience later that night. One young woman''s question--"What was the saddest thing you saw during your service?"--so struck former Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, in fact, that he repeated it for the adult audience that night. Albright replied that while mass graves in Kosovo and the bombings of US embassies in Africa had been pretty darn low points, her saddest moment was flying over jails stuffed to the gills and the remains of church massacre sites in "the place where we hadn''t done anything: Rwanda."