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Taking a selfie with Madeleine Albright, and local professional Mona Locke is rare for an everyday school day.  However, for a select number of students in Bellevue, this was their reality.

On Thursday, March 19 high school students from Bellevue School District, along with two other Bellevue area schools had the opportunity to engage with former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright at the Bellevue Arts Museum.  Students asked tough questions regarding Albright’s work with foreign policy, how to empower those without power and what the most important qualities are for a leader.

Part of the experience for students was the opportunity to tour Albright’s Read My Pins exhibit, currently on view at the Bellevue Arts Museum.  Students listened to Albright address why the exhibit was named such and the significance of the pins she wore.  While she was Secretary of State, people would ask her what she would be talking about today and she would respond, “Read my pins.”

ASB officer and a freshman at Big Picture, Thomas Taylor, found the forum to be a “cool experience.”  He thought the most interesting part was when Albright shared the ways she interacted with the United Nations and how her choice of pins made an impact on foreign policy/framed her diplomatic approach day by day.

It was Albright’s time in the United Nations that sparked her use of jewelry as a diplomatic accessory.  Following the Gulf War, the United States was searching for resolutions sanctioning Iraq.  Iraqi media then compared Albright to an “unparalleled serpent.”  She then decided to wear a snake pin to her next meeting about Iraq.  Afterwards she continued wearing the accessory, selecting flowers and butterflies on good days and bugs on bad days.  Pins were a great way to tell a story for Albright and ultimately left a unique and lasting impression of her leadership on a global scale.

Students were empowered by Albright’s leadership and journey.  She shared that it never occurred to her that she could be Secretary of State.  It wasn’t that she didn’t have the ambition, but she had never seen a woman in that position.  “I didn’t expect it, but I loved every minute of it,” Albright said.

Leading the charge for women to hold the Secretary of State position, Albright said that the “greatest misconception is that we (women) can’t do the job” and that women feel pressure to prove ourselves.  The government is composed of rights, and it is their responsibility to make sure people have the rights and equality of opportunity.  Government must look at how to empower those who are not in power, and if the government does not do this it is failing, she said.

Albright shared a family story about her granddaughter asking what’s so special about Grandma Maddy; only women can be Secretary of State.  At the age of seven, her granddaughter had only seen women in this position, so from her perspective a woman Secretary of State was the norm.  Albright playfully said now John Kerry, current Secretary of State, can be an inspiration for men.

Students connected with Albright and her stories.  Sammamish High School Sophomore, Carmen Grisaffi said, “it’s really great hearing from someone who has had so much experience with foreign policy.”  Grisaffi is Vice President for her class and was inspired by the forum with Albright.  She said it was “helpful for our own futures.”

Classmate Moses Shiong agreed with Grisaffi and said that listening to Albright was “really powerful.”

Albright concluded the student forum saying she is confident today’s generation “will un-mess the things we messed up.”

The Bellevue School District acknowledges that we learn, work, live and gather on the Indigenous Land of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the Duwamish and Snoqualmie Tribes. We thank these caretakers of this land, who have lived and continue to live here, since time immemorial.