M.B.A. ’71, Honorary Doctor of Public Service ’90
Retired 4-Star General U.S. Army, Former U.S. Secretary of State, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Security Advisor
Monumental Achievement: Colin Powell has blazed a trail throughout his life of service. He is the first and only Black man to chair the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during which he oversaw 28 crises, including Operation Desert Storm in 1991. He was the first African American to serve as U.S. secretary of state. During his 35 years in the U.S. Army, Powell served two tours in Vietnam, was stationed in West Germany and South Korea, acted as President Ronald Reagan's deputy national security advisor in 1987 then National Security Advisor from 1988 until 1989 before being promoted to the rank of four-star general. Among his many awards are two Presidential Medals of Freedom (the second with distinction), the President's Citizens Medal, the Congressional Gold Medal, the Secretary of State Distinguished Service Medal, the Secretary of Energy Distinguished Service Medal, and the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award.
For over 50 years, General Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.) has devoted his life to public service. Having held senior military and diplomatic positions across four presidential administrations, Powell’s deep commitment to democratic values and freedom has been felt throughout the world.
The son of Jamaican immigrants, Powell was born in Harlem in April 1937 and was raised in the South Bronx. He was educated in the New York City public schools and attended the City College of New York (CCNY) where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in geology. It was not until he joined the Army ROTC program at CCNY that he discovered his calling and launched his military career. He received a commission as an Army second lieutenant upon graduation in 1958 and went on to serve in the United States Army for 35 years, rising to the rank of four-star general.
From 1987–1989, Powell served as President Ronald Reagan’s national security advisor. He served from 1989–1993 as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for both President George H.W. Bush and for President Bill Clinton. He was not only the youngest officer and first ROTC graduate to ever serve in the position, but also was the first African American to do so. During his time as chairman, he oversaw 28 crises including the Panama intervention of 1989 and Operation Desert Storm in the victorious 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Under President George W. Bush, Powell was appointed the 65th secretary of state and was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. As secretary of state, he led the State Department in major efforts to address and solve regional and civil conflicts. He used the power of diplomacy to build trust, forge alliances and then help transform these unstable regions into areas where societies and cultures have the potential to prosper. He also worked at the forefront of American efforts to advance economic and social development worldwide.
Among the many U.S. military awards and decorations Powell has received are the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Army Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Soldier’s Medal, Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart. His civil awards include two Presidential Medals of Freedom, the President’s Citizens Medal, the Congressional Gold Medal and the Secretary of Energy Distinguished Service Medal. In addition, he has received awards from over two dozen countries including a French Legion of Honor and an honorary knighthood bestowed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Powell is the chair of the board of visitors of the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at his alma mater, the City College of New York (CCNY), which was inaugurated in May 2013. He also has nine elementary and middle schools named after him. He is the founder and chairman emeritus of the America’s Promise Alliance, dedicated to forging a strong and effective partnership alliance committed to seeing that children have the fundamental resources they need to succeed.
Powell is an adviser at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the renowned Silicon Valley venture capital firm. He serves on the board of directors of Bloom Energy, an alternative energy company that provides unique on-site power generation systems utilizing an innovative new fuel cell technology. In March 2014, he joined the Board of Directors of Salesforce.com, the world’s largest provider of cloud-based customer relationship management software.
He was previously on the boards of AOL, Gulfstream, Howard University, the United Negro College Fund, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
Powell serves on the Museum Council of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
His autobiography, My American Journey, was a New York Times best seller and has been published in more than a dozen different languages. Powell’s second book, It Worked for Me: In Life & Leadership (May 2012), was an instant New York Times best seller as well and reveals the lessons that shaped his life and career.
Powell is married to the former Alma Vivian Johnson of Birmingham, Alabama. They live in McLean, Virginia and have three children and four grandchildren.