Samantha Power with U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson at a World Affairs Council of Atlanta reception. 

When Samantha Power graduated from Lakeside High School in 1988, she didn’t know that the school’s growing diversity would prepare her so well for her current position as the United States ambassador to the United Nations.

Speaking at the school’s commencement on May 17 at the Greater Traveler’s Rest Baptist Church in Decatur, Ms. Power said the mix of cultures there 26 years ago helped set the stage for her career in international relations.

“Nothing I encountered since Lakeside came close to the cross-section of society that I got to know here,” the diplomat and Pultizer Prize-winning author said. “Only the United Nations, … where 192 other countries are represented, comes close. And thanks to my high school days I am prepared for my core task – bringing together people of different backgrounds to try to forge common cause.”

As an eighth grader in 1983, Ms. Power saw the school implement a busing program that brought African American children from inner city areas to schools like Lakeside, which is located on Briarcliff Road

Students learned to enjoy the “snap, crackle and pop of new exposures and a merger of different worlds,” but the differences also caused friction that they had to learn how to address, Ms. Power said. 

“In this environment it took time for people to stop focusing on the qualities that could divide us – whether it was race, or whether we were jocks or nerds, popular kids or not — and to focus instead on all that we had in common,” she said. 

Ms. Power’s return to her alma mater was celebrated by an enthusiastic crowd of parents, teachers and students eager to listen to her worldly advice and unique life experience.

Originally from Castleknock, Ireland, Ms. Power emigrated to the U.S. at the age of 9. She lived In Pittsburgh before moving to the Atlanta area. She went from Lakeside High to Yale University, where she developed an interest in sports journalism— a career ambition that was “turned on its head” after she witnessed a live CBS news feed of the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square in Beijing while taking notes on a baseball game between the Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres.

“I was hit by metaphorical lightening,” Ms. Power said. “I decided from that point on I wanted to do what little I could to help people who were seeking dignity and freedom.”

After college, the future U.S. ambassador covered the Yugoslav wars as a journalist and returned the U.S. in 1996 to attend Harvard Law School

Prior to her stint as the senior foreign-policy adviser to President Obama‘s 2008 presidential campaign, Ms. Power published widely on international human rights issues, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” which examined the political instability of foreign governments and the Armenian and Rwandan genocides.

While touching on heavier subjects, the U.S. ambassador kept her 20-minute speech light and entertaining.

“It is I, a Lakeside graduate who has grown long-winded competing for airtime at the United Nations, who stands between you and your diplomas,” she joked.

Ms. Power’s parting words for the soon-to-be graduates emphasized the importance of honoring the “golden rule” that is so highly valued within the international political circle. She depicted a mosaic based off a painting by Norman Rockwell that hangs at the UN. Among the collage of faces of people  from different cultures and backgrounds reads the famous rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” 

“It is a powerful message made more so by the fact that every major religion and culture has its own version of that rule,” Ms. Power said, quoting the West African version, which reads, “Before you pinch a baby bird with a stick, try doing it to yourself and feel how much it hurts.”

Ms. Power closed her speech on an inspirational note that was well accepted by her audience.

“The reason that Lakeside’s diversity has worked for so long, is that somehow, some way that golden rule has found a way to prevail,” she said. “You are more than ready for the world beyond Lakeside. I do not know that the world beyond Lakeside is ready for you, but from this day forth we are going to find out.” 

Read the full speech here

Listen to a WABE interview after the speech here

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...