Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright will receive the Radcliffe Medal from the Radcliffe Association on Friday, June 8, during the association’s annual luncheon in Cambridge. The Radcliffe Medal is awarded yearly to an individual whose life and work has had a significant impact on society.
As America’s 64th secretary of state, Albright was the first female to hold the post and is the highest-ranking woman in U.S. government history. During Albright’s tenure, America led efforts to expand and modernize NATO, halt ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, promote peace in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, and enhance cooperation with China. Albright also represented the United States as co-convenor of the first world conference of democracies, and she initiated efforts to bring the lives of women and girls into the mainstream of American foreign policy.
Humor and toughness characterized Albright’s appointment as secretary of state. She taught the ambassador from Botswana how to dance the “macarena” and, after being called a “snake” by Iraqi officials, took to wearing a gold snake pin. When the officials called her a “witch,” she wore a gold broom pin.
“I am deeply honored to receive this medal,” Albright said of the Radcliffe Medal. “It will inspire me, as I begin my new life, to redouble my commitment to excellence in education, democracy, and advancing the status of women and girls across the globe.”
That “new life” is filled with diverse responsibilities. Besides chairing the National Democratic Institute, Albright is writing a book and developing international business opportunities. No stranger to academia, she was recently appointed the first Michael and Virginia Mortara professor in the practice of diplomacy at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. This fall, she will also be a distinguished scholar at the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan Business School.
Earlier in her career, she was a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and the director of its Women in Foreign Service Program. Albright also served as president of the Center for National Policy, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C.
Her distinguished career includes service as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, as a member of President Bill Clinton’s Cabinet, and as a member of the National Security Council under presidents Clinton and Carter.
Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Albright and her family fled to London to escape the Nazis during World War II. There’s a “pretty good chance that I might have died in a concentration camp if my parents had not been brave enough to bring us out of that,” Albright said in an interview on the “Oprah Show” last January. “My parents had made it clear to me that the suffering of other people under great evil was something that could not be tolerated.” Her family was granted political asylum in the United States, after communists took control of Czechoslovakia in 1948.
A self-described “pragmatic idealist,” Albright added, “I’m about to leave what is clearly the best job in the world, but it’s not over. I’m going to redesign my life, continue to do the things I care about, and learn in the process.”
Albright majored in political science at Wellesley College and earned her master’s and doctorate degrees from Columbia University’s Department of Public Law and Government, while raising three daughters.
Past Radcliffe Medal recipients include former American Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole, Harvard President Emeritus Derek C. Bok, opera singer Jessye Norman, surgeon/advocate Susan Love, and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Doris Kearns Goodwin and Alice Walker.