“Stand up straight. Chin up. Feet together. Arms down.” After a brief and often comical “inspection” by Colin Powell, the retired four-star general and former secretary of state, roughly 35 past and former students of the Tuckahoe School District were allowed to ask questions of Gen. Powell, who visited the school Tuesday morning while vacationing at his summer house in the Hamptons.
Gen. Powell stressed the importance of working hard and urged the students to always put their best foot forward, particularly if they find something they are passionate about. After a half hour, he fielded questions from the students ranging from his career in the military to his family life to his success as a person of color.
“What impressed me the most was that he was just a small boy from a small town and he grew up to do so many impressive and important things,” seventh grader C.J. Ferrentino, 13, said after the event. “It was nice that he came.”
Gen. Powell started off by telling the students about his childhood growing up in Harlem. He shared with the students that it was not always his goal to be a top military official, and he noted that he never did that well in school. With a ‘C’ average, Gen. Powell was accepted to the City University of New York, where he said he joined a program that changed his life, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or ROTC.
“I found something I was passionate about,” he said. “But I knew it would take hard work and study. I wanted to be successful every day of my life, but it takes working hard and believing in yourself.”
Gen. Powell also outlined his service in the US Army, during which he served in the Vietnam War, the invasion of Panama and the Persian Gulf War before becoming chairman of the chief joints of staff and eventually secretary of state.
According to Chris Dyer, the Tuckahoe School District superintendent, the school has invited Gen. Powell to speak on several occasions, most recently as the commencement speaker for the June graduation, but this was the first time the dignitary was able to attend.
“It is pretty exciting for our community,” Mr. Dyer said. “He is a great statesman and military official and it is a great opportunity for the kids to talk to him about their futures.”
The students agreed. One, 10-year-old fifth grader Robert Sior, said when he was first told that Gen. Powell was coming to the school, he did not know who he was. But after some research, he said, he really became interested in the general’s life and military career.
“Today was a lot of fun,” he said. “He was interesting and I was happy to see him because he is a very big part of the United States of America and its history.”
Isabelle Riffaud, 9, also in the fifth grade, said she was impressed by Gen. Powell’s career in the military, adding that she would not have been able to serve in the armed forces for so long. She also commented on his personality, noting that he called her his “buddy” several times.
“I thought he was very impressive,” she said. “I would never be able to last that long in the Army without freaking out.”
Gen. Powell posed for pictures with all of the students after his presentation, and then School Board president Robert Grisnik led the students in a salute of the retired general. He said he was happy he got to visit the school, noting that education should be the top priority for this country in the years to come.
“This is a terrific school and I think it is a great investment on the part of the community to put a school like this in place so we can educate all of the youngsters we have out here,” Gen. Powell said. “There is nothing more important to our society right now than to give every child a quality education—that is a major part of my life, and my wife’s life, to work and make us a nation of graduates.
“Tuckahoe really seems to be committed to that proposition,” he continued. “I really enjoyed my visit.”