Samantha Power Revisits Yale

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Written by: Samantha Larkin

By one o’clock, a dozen students had already taken the most coveted seats in Yale Law School’s Levinson Hall. Soon to be joined by community members and faculty, the spectators engaged in quiet conversation, with some notable murmurs about coming assignments and skipped classes. Others spent the time hurriedly making up the work they were missing or getting ahead on work due later so they could spend the rest of this Wednesday afternoon carefully reflecting on the discussion they would hear.

That discussion was one of many in the new “Big Picture” series, hosted by the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy. October 2nd marked the first public talk in the series, focusing on the real-world applications of former UN Ambassador Samantha Power’s recently published memoir, The Education of an Idealist.

The memoir traces Ambassador Power’s life from her childhood in an Irish pub to her new life in Atlanta, Georgia; her athletic college days to her experience as a war-correspondent in Bosnia; and from her life as a professor and advocate for human rights to her appointment to the National Security Council by former President Barack Obama. Her role as the American Ambassador to the United Nations is expounded upon, as well as the struggles she faced in trying to protect human rights and promote freedom around the world. Ambassador Power is best known for her foreign policy regarding humanitarian crises, and the role America has to play when there is trouble abroad. One of the main questions her new memoir seeks to answer is how the United States should intervene in foreign nations when the lives or liberties of people are at stake.

Interviewing Ambassador Power about her book and her role in foreign policy were former National Security Adviser to Vice President Joe Biden and visiting lecturer, Jake Sullivan, as well as the 22nd Legal Adviser of the Department of State and Sterling Professor of International Law Harold Hongju Koh. After a brief introduction by Brady-Johnson Professor of Grand Strategy and History, Beverly Gage, Ambassador Power took up the microphone to greet the crowd of eager students and to read an excerpt from her memoir, setting the tone for the discussion. 

Throughout the panel, Power harkened back to her memoir, referencing the outbreak and persistence of certain issues like the Ukrainian Crisis and her mission to Cameroon to promote the safety of civilians living in fear of the Boko Haram. The memoir not only reflects the growth and education of an important American ambassador, but the influence she and her policies had on the world. 

With brief commentary on the current state of American foreign relations, Ambassador Power admitted that the power America once had to intervene in humanitarian crises may have been recently ignored. With the current presidency focusing on internal affairs, our former status to foreign countries— and certainly our allies— has been reduced. But, she recalls her own time at Yale, specifically in the History department, and hopes that new educational initiatives—such as the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy—are raising a new generation of humanitarians and policy makers.

You can buy Ambassador Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir The Education of an Idealistat the Campus Bookstore, Barnes and Noble online, or Amazon, as well as her well-known book on foreign policy “A Problem From Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide. For more information about Ambassador Power, or to see upcoming dates for her book tour, you can visit

For the next “Big Picture” event, visit the Brady-Johnson Program in grand strategy website.