Saving the world one small act at a time

Courtesy photoFormer U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and best-selling Samantha Power, left, speaks to more than 500 people and students at St. John’s Prep Tuesday night as part of the school’s Brother Robert J. Sullivan, C.F.X. Lecture Series presented by the St. John’s Centers for Mission and Research. The talk was moderated by trustee Katie O’Dair, dean of students at Harvard College.

DANVERS — Pulitzer Prize-winning author, war correspondent, Harvard University professor and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told an audience of more than 500 at St. John’s Prep Tuesday night that some students asked her question she had never been asked before.

Power, whose best-selling memoir, “The Education of an Idealist,” was published just last month, said one student asked her during a dinner reception: “How do you see the parallels to what happened in Tiananmen Square ... to what is going on today in Hong Kong?” she said about the pro-democracy movements thirty years apart, one still in progress, the other repressed with soldiers and tanks.

An immigrant from Dublin, Ireland who came to Pittsburgh in 1979 and who went to public high school in Atlanta, she was a budding sports journalist in college and was interning for a CBS station on June 3, 1989 when she was asked to take notes on a Braves game for the evening broadcast. Surrounded by screens, the live feed from Beijing caught her eye.

“I saw a startling scene playing out,” she said as she watched the student uprising being crushed by the military.

“Young people used their bicycles to flee the scene and transport the wounded,” Power said. Then the live feed from China was “terminated.” Power described the famous CNN video two days later of a man carrying groceries confronting a column of tanks. A chapter in her memoir “Tank Man,” is dedicated to this unknown man.

It struck Power that while she was a college student taking notes on a baseball game, students her age were being mowed down by tanks. This led her to an interest and then a career in human rights and foreign policy.

“I didn’t know I was having a transformational moment,” she said of what it was like when she first caught sight of what was going on in Beijing. But, along with this sense of wanting to do something, she was caught by the thought: “I want to do something, but who the heck am I?”

Power served as U.N. ambassador from 2013 to 2017 during Obama’s second term. She was the nation’s youngest-ever U.N. ambassador, and the only woman on the U.N. Security Council during her tenure.

She led the U.S. opposition to Russian aggression in Ukraine and Syria, negotiated tough sanctions on North Korea, lobbied to free political prisoners and crafted international law to cripple ISIS’s financial networks. She also supported the Obama administration’s efforts to stop the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

And, she said, the feeling of being just one person in the world never goes away. But her take away was that small acts can add up to big ones.

“What is the small thing we can do to become better informed,” she said.

Power’s well-attended talk was part of the Brother Robert J. Sullivan, C.F.X. Lecture Series, presented by St. John’s Centers for Mission and Research, which explores how an ethics-based education can shape real-world decisions.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews. 



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