Passing of General Colin L. Powell

Dear City College Community,

The City College of New York joins the rest of the world in mourning the loss of General Colin L. Powell. He was a deeply important man to us, both for what he did for his alma mater and how he talked about City’s role in his life. 

General Powell never forgot the young man he was when he came to CCNY, and throughout his life, he sought out young people who embodied that moment and went out of his way to help them along. He spoke frequently and with genuine emotion about the first time he met the inaugural cohort of Colin Powell Fellows at CCNY—a group of students on scholarships that he supported.  Invariably he summed up the impression they made on him with the phrase, “They were me.  I met them, and they were me.”  It’s an extraordinary thing for a man of his experience and accomplishments to see himself in those uncertain and early lives, but he was an extraordinary, extraordinary man. 

That insight, and his generous willingness to share it, allowed us to remind students each year that men and women of great (eventual) accomplishment enter the college each year provisioned only with a will to work, a store of intelligence, and an institution-borne opportunity. Against the momentum of an 18-year old’s uncertainty, sometimes shading into self-doubt, we could deploy General Powell’s own words: his pride at his public education, his clear sense that it fulsomely equipped him for success, and his own uncertain entry into the college.

I had the opportunity, in these last months, to impress on General Powell the extent to which he remade CCNY by his deep and committed involvement in the Colin Powell Center, and later the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership.  When he first began more extensively to involve himself in our work, there were virtually no resources to support students apart from state and federal financial aid.  The scholarships we did have mainly delivered monies to student recipients. 

The Colin Powell Fellowships were different.  Under his influence, we built them around leadership training and service requirements.  We impressed on students the idea of public service as an exchange for the public investment in their education—and General Powell frequently and generously offered himself up as an example for them to follow.  Today, the college is rife with student support programs—not as many as we need, but far more extensive than we would ever have imagined when we began in 2005. Students who leave these programs understand that the College of the City of New York (as Mark Twain called us) is a place where investments in their education commit them to lives of service. General Powell, by his example, his leadership, and his support engineered that change, and we are unimaginably better for it.

We are heartbroken at the loss of this man.  He will be remembered across the world for many things, by vast numbers of different people.  On this campus, we will remember him as one who committed himself to our institution. He demonstrated that in the underserved places in our society there exists a great and irreplaceable potential, and we risk a tragic loss when we overlook it.  And he leaves, in the sad and stunning moment of his departure from us, the admonition that we honor his memory and example by striving never to miss the next Colin Powell, out there somewhere trying to figure out what she will become.

On behalf of the college, we send our deepest sympathies to General Powell’s family and friends.  At an appropriate time, the college will announce a plan to adequately honor this most distinguished son of City College.


Vincent Boudreau Signature

Vince Boudreau

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