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Former U.S. Secretary of State visits North Liberty

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright shakes hands with North Liberty Mayor Amy Nielsen on Sunday, Jan. 17. Albright visited North Liberty to stump for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and offered more than an hour of her time to speak to a crowd of about 110 people in Clinton’s campaign office. (photo by Lori Lindner)

NORTH LIBERTY– Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucus status has brought many prestigious guests from the political arena to Eastern Iowa.
Last Sunday, it was North Liberty’s turn to host one of the nation’s– and the world’s– most influential.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Hillary Clinton’s campaign field office in North Liberty on Jan. 17 to speak on Clinton’s behalf, and answer questions of those who came to see her. About 110 people braved near-zero temperatures to create a standing-room-only crowd in the small space at 4 Hawkeye Dr., where the former secretary spoke for about 45 minutes, and lingered afterward to sign autographs and take photographs with anyone who asked.
Albright, who was born in Czechoslovakia and became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1957, graduated with a major in political science from Wellesley College in 1959. She studied international relations at a division of Johns Hopkins University and, later, at Columbia University, where she earned a master’s degree and a PhD. She was appointed Ambassador to the United Nations in 1993. In 1997, Albright was appointed as U.S. Secretary of State, the first female to ever hold that position in the country. The 78-year-old speaks six languages.
As a young girl, Albright would often accompany her diplomat father to the airport in traditional Czech attire to welcome foreign visitors and give them flowers.
“My national costume is in the Czech and Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids,” she said.
In response to questions from audience members, Albright spoke on a variety of topics including general foreign policy, the United Nations’ (U.N.) response to political refugees, American involvement in foreign affairs, and health care. She offered stories of her political experiences, highlighting the antiquated views of women’s roles she encountered early in her career, in contrast to the ways women represent the world today.
“I really do come from a generation so far removed from what is going on now,” Albright said. “When I graduated from Wellesley in 1959, our graduation speaker was the Secretary of Defense, and he basically said ‘Your main responsibility is to get married and raise interesting sons.’ It’s amazing we didn’t walk out, but we were a generation that didn’t do that.”
Albright emphasized the importance of encouraging women to aspire to positions of power and decision-making; women can have everything, she said, but shouldn’t feel it must come all at once.
“We have to teach ourselves that our lives comes in segments,” she said. “The major thing about women continues to be our best word: ‘choice.’”
When Albright was serving as a U.N. Ambassador and came under consideration for appointment as Secretary of State by former President Bill Clinton, public opinion was that officials from Arab nations would not be comfortable working with a woman.
“The Arab ambassadors of the U.N. came together to put out a statement saying they had no problem with Ambassador Albright; they would have no problem with Secretary Albright either,” she said.
Albright’s main reason for visiting North Liberty, however, was to stump for her long-time friend and political ally, former First Lady, New York Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She said Clinton’s Illinois upbringing gives her a Midwestern sensibility that still resonates.
“Hillary is a Midwesterner, and I think she really does get it. The things she looks at in terms of families, opportunities and understanding trade are issues that come from her background,” said Albright. “There are very few people who can use both sides of their brain and understand both domestic policy and foreign policy, and I think “(Hillary) is one of those people.”
Albright concluded her remarks with a reminder for everyone to attend the upcoming presidential caucuses.
“It is such an exercise in democracy,” Albright said to the audience. “People have accepted your first-in-the-nation status, but they are sometimes surprised at what it means and why there is so much emphasis on it. That puts the onus on you, because it’s a great honor to be first in the nation, but also a huge responsibility. You are responsible for getting there and encouraging your friends and neighbors to participate in the process.”
Albright’s visit was precipitated by repeated requests from North Liberty Mayor Amy Nielsen to the Clinton campaign seeking to bring a significant supporter to North Liberty.
Nielsen said she wanted to underscore the impact North Liberty’s growing population and citizens’ involvement has had in elections at all levels. She didn’t know who the campaign would send, but was thrilled when she learned Albright would be coming. As North Liberty’s first female mayor, Albright’s accomplishments in breaking the glass ceiling for women are meaningful to Nielsen.
“It’s important to me that girls have someone to look up to in their lives, and I can’t think of any two women for girls to look up to more important than Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton,” Nielsen said. She noted Albright had been chosen as Teacher of the Year four times as a professor at Georgetown University. “Secretary Albright’s work in politics is unparalleled, her fight for human rights, for peace, is something we are still working on, but the example she has set should be looked to by the present generation and future generations to come. It’s incredibly exciting to celebrate the woman Madeleine Albright is.”