Mount Pleasant senior Paul Barlow looked at the McGuirk Arena, covered with fold-up chairs. People were only starting to file in, but Barlow could feel the excitement.
“There’s a special vibe going on in there,” Barlow said. “A special energy.”
Twenty minutes later, all that could be heard was the quiet tapping of marching boots. The sold-out crowd of more than 5,000 in the arena stood on their feet in respect and absolute silence as soldiers marched the American flag up to the podium. Even a murmur could have drowned out the sound of the boots. Partly in respect for the flag, the utter silence was also in anticipation of Colin Powell.
Kwabena Nkansah-Amankra, a Ghana senior, agreed.
“At the beginning you could just feel it,” Nkansah-Amankra said. “Something was going to happen.”
When Powell finally appeared on stage, a man who played a prominent role in four presidential administrations, serving in positions such as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, the tension was immediately released. Powell seemed completely normal.
Midway through his hour-long speech, he told the story of his years in college. It wasn’t one you’d expect a prominent figure to tell.
Powell did not do well in college, at least not in his academic classes. His ROTC classes were a different story; he was getting straight As.
The school officials decided to add his ROTC scores into his GPA average, giving him a 2.0 GPA.
“Good enough for government work,” Powell exclaimed, and the audience laughed as though on cue.
After the tale was over, he added words of wisdom.
“Your past is not your future, it’s not even your present.”
Nathaniel Mark, a Williamston sophomore, was incredibly impressed.
“I just took away a lot of wisdom from his speech,” Castillo said. “He has the capacity to know things we can’t know because of where he’s been.”
Keego Harbor sophomore Julius Cantuba agreed.
“It’s like he’s on the inside and we’re on the outside,” he said.
Powell spoke extensively about his moderate Republican views and said he drew inspiration from former Michigan governors William Milliken, George Romney and President Gerald Ford. These politicians, he said, were able to reach across the aisle with the other party.
Anthony Cossins, a Holly high school teacher, found this approach inspirational.
“What I love about Colin Powell is he still believes this country has not fulfilled its potential,” Cossins said. “And he offered practical solutions on how to get there. I’m going to go to students and emphasize his spirit of compromise.”
Interim Associate Dean of the College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences Timothy Hall said he thought the speech was incredibly useful to his position in administration.
“I thought the speech was wonderful, just wonderful,” Hall said. “I think learning a little bit on his views on leadership was exciting. His model of personable leadership, leading by example with integrity and understanding – I’m going to take a lot from that.”