Former Secretary of State and professor Madeleine Albright dies at 84

March 24, 2022

Illustration by Deborah Han

Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, the first female Secretary of State, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and Georgetown professor, died on March 23 at 84 years old. 

She lost her fight against cancer, according to a statement from her family

Born in Czechoslovakia, Albright’s family fled the country when Nazis invaded in 1938, first migrating to London and then the United States once World War II ended. Albright was 11 years old when she arrived in America. 

She studied political science at Wellesley College, and after starting a family, later received her doctorate in public law and government at Columbia University. 

Albright rose to political prominence under President Bill Clinton, first serving as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. during his first term (1993-1997) and U.S. Secretary of State for his second (1997-2001). She became a role model as the highest-ranking woman to serve in the government at the time.

Long before her ascension to Secretary of State, however, Albright played an essential role in the lives of her students, first joining the Georgetown faculty in 1982. 

“More than any other faculty member in our 100-year history, Madeleine Albright left her deep mark on the shape of our school,” Dean of the School of Foreign Service Joel Hellman wrote in an email to the student body on March 23. “Albright combined a scholar’s appreciation for the arc of history, an immigrant’s recognition of the great promise of America, a woman’s understanding of what it means to shatter glass ceilings, and a seasoned diplomat’s ability to disarm her opponents with wit, charm, and grace.”

Her classes, including the famed undergraduate class “American National Security Tool Box,” have been taken by more than 2,000 students. Despite her many commitments, including chairing two companies of her own creation—Albright Stonebridge Group and Albright Capital Management LLC—Albright rarely missed class and took time to meet her students individually.

“Whether it was a lecture, a simulation, or a one-on-one discussion, [Albright] was always brilliant and engaging,” Fiona Breslin (SFS ’21), who took Albright’s class, wrote to the Voice. “It never felt as though her position as educator was anything less than her main priority.”

Albright also worked with the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security (GIWPS), engaging in conversations with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with whom she collaborated during Clinton’s famous trip to Beijing to speak at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women. 

Amb. Melanne Verveer, the executive director for GIWPS, mourned Albright’s death on Twitter, calling her “a global trailblazer who did so much to advance progress for women and girls everywhere.” 

Albright continued to remain politically active in her later years. She endorsed Clinton’s presidential bid in 2016, infamously (and later to her regret) stating at a Clinton rally: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”

In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Albright the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a civilian can receive. She also repeatedly received Georgetown University’s outstanding professor award.

In her final weeks, she remained outspoken about current geopolitical issues. Just a day before the Kremlin invaded Ukraine, Albright published an opinion essay in the New York Times defending Ukrainian sovereignty and condemning Russian aggression. 

“Her deep knowledge of the underlying forces that shape international affairs remained relevant until the very last days of her life,” Hellman wrote. “She raised her voice only weeks ago to warn of the tragedy now before us in this brutal war on the European continent.”

Her example inspired an entire generation of students to pursue diplomacy, in particular those who have not been well represented in the field. “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent,” Albright said in an 2010 interview with HuffPost. “I feel that I have been so blessed that it is incumbent upon me to really get in there and help to make a difference for other people.”

Nora Scully
Nora is the fall 2023 editor-in-chief. She enjoys cats and dogs of all types and has been working on approaching D.C. dog owners to ask to pet their dog(s).

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