Acclaimed diplomat and author Ambassador Samantha Power joined Berkley Center Senior Fellow Paul Elie to discuss her new memoir, The Education of an Idealist, at a Georgetown panel on Thursday.
In the book, Power, who served in the Obama administration as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, traces her journey from Irish immigrant to war correspondent to government official.
The ambassador and Elie discussed her writing process, as well as the challenges facing American diplomacy and politics today.
Personal and Political
The process of writing a memoir gave Power an opportunity to reflect on the connection between her personal life and political career.
“Writing has always been a way I’ve sorted things through,” she said. “The question of activist to government official required the kind of reflection that a life in national security just didn’t afford me.”
Power provides a wide-ranging treatment of her life in the new book, which discusses not only her political career but also her childhood and coming-of-age as a working mother. The ambassador reflected on her approach, remarking,
If you want the reader to root for you on one level, or even get mad at you for betraying what you articulate as your own principles, they have to know you in some deeper sense.
By connecting her personal and political journeys, Power hopes to inspire confidence in the possibilities of American democracy.
“I did want to show the integrity of the effort,” said Power, in reference to her government service. “There is a team that you can join that’s really motivated by reasonable differences about how to try to improve lives.”
Writing as Self-Discovery
Elie—who teaches the memoir in his first-year Ignatius Seminar, The Search—commented on the literary qualities of the memoir.
“I characterize the book to my students as a search,” he said. “To what extent is the search happening on the page, the writer figuring things out as she organizes it?”
While writing, Power came to realize the importance of interpersonal relationships in the world of policymaking—like the regular gatherings she convened with fellow female ambassadors at the United Nations. As the ambassador explained:
Only in going back through do you really start to appreciate and cherish those connections where there are so many people in your life that have your back.
In the Q&A session, two Georgetown students enrolled in The Search asked Power about her creative process.
“I found it striking how in a memoir about a high-ranking U.S. official how honest you were,” said Nicolette Carrion (C’24). “Why did you want to convey that?”
By leaning into personal challenges experienced during the course of her life, Power hopes to relate to readers and younger generations.
“In writing about vulnerability, especially, I hope I have created more points of entry to what from the outside looks like a very polished life,” she said.
Power also reflected on the challenge of fear in contemporary American public life, especially in the wake of the 2020 presidential election.
“Once the fear genie is out of the bottle, it’s really hard to meet people where they are when they’re afraid,” she shared. “We’ve got to figure out how to deal with fear in our politics—not blow past it, but somehow reach people who are living in more and more insulated spaces.”
But Power remains hopeful for the future of American democracy, commenting,
Are we going to be okay? Answer: How many people turned out to vote? Did young people bring up their registration numbers?
Shared commitment to grassroots engagement in the democratic process will produce lasting change, according to Power.
“Those sort of expressions of commitment around a different platform than one predicated on fear—that’s where the change is going to come out,” the ambassador said. “We have to keep the drumbeat up in a bottom-up way.”
This event was co-sponsored by Georgetown University’s Office of the President; Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs; Institute of Politics and Public Service; and Institute for Women, Peace and Security.