Commencement 2015: Biographies - Madeleine Albright


Madeleine Albright, who reinforced America’s alliances, advocated for democracy and human rights and promoted American trade as well as its business, labor and environmental standards abroad while serving as the United States’ first woman secretary of state, is awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Peter Dolan, Chairman of the Board of Trustees during the Phase I ceremony of Tufts University's 159th Commencement on Sunday, May 17, 2015.
Photo by Matthew Healey/Tufts University


When you were sworn in as President Bill Clinton’s secretary of state in 1997, you became the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in government at the time. You not only became a role model for women, but navigated complex global challenges—fighting unstintingly for human rights, working to halt the spread of nuclear weapons, and aiding in the expansion of NATO.

You made history on many fronts. You became the first American secretary of state to travel to North Korea; you made new inroads in normalizing U.S. relations with China and Vietnam; and you were a major player in the search for stability in the Middle East, brokering negotiations between Israel and Arab nations. Your enduring pursuit of global peace was recognized in 2012, when President Barack Obama presented you with our nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. You remain a steadfast advocate for women around the globe, championing their political equality, economic parity, and reproductive rights.

Since leaving politics, you have continued to provide your counsel and expertise on the major issues of the day—and have found time to write five New York Times bestsellers. For a lifetime in the public arena dedicated to making our world more peaceful, safe, and prosperous, Tufts is deeply honored to award you an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Photo by Timothy Greenfield Sanders


MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, born in Czechoslovakia and destined to become a nimble and astute public servant occupying multiple roles in her adopted land without sacrificing a whit of her humanity, was the first woman to serve as U.S. secretary of state.

Albright was born in Prague in 1937, and moved with her family to the United States as a child. The family settled in Colorado. A bright student, Albright earned a scholarship to Wellesley College, where she edited the school newspaper. After earning her B.A. in political science at Wellesley and a Ph.D. in public law and government at Columbia University, Albright was inspired by one of her professors to enter politics.

She didn’t need to be pushed. She had grown up hearing about world affairs from her father, Josef Korbel, a diplomat and later a distinguished professor at the University of Denver who claimed Condoleezza Rice, another future secretary of state, as one of his favorite students.

Albright served on the staffs of Maine Senator Edmund Muskie; President Jimmy Carter; Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman nominated for the vice presidency by a major political party; and Michael Dukakis during his 1988 presidential bid. In early 1993, President Bill Clinton tapped her to be the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations.

Three years later, in 1996, Clinton nominated Albright to be secretary of state. Sworn in the following January, she became the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in the U.S. government at that time. In her new role, Albright campaigned unstintingly for human rights, fought to halt the spread of nuclear weapons, and aided the expansion of NATO. She also struggled to bring peace to the Middle East. As difficult as these challenges were, Albright never abandoned her native wit. “In order to get through a lot of complicated issues, it helps to have a little bit of humor,” she has said.

Albright left her post as secretary of state in 2001. She has since written five New York Times bestsellers, including Madam Secretary: A Memoir (2003); Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box(2009), concerning her tactical use of jewelry on the job; and Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War (2012). She currently serves as co-chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm; chair of the National Democratic Institute; and professor in the practice of diplomacy at Georgetown University. Her many honors include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which Barack Obama awarded her in 2012.

The trailblazing Albright is known for supporting other women coming along behind her, saying, “Once you have climbed the ladder of success... you don’t push it away from the building.” At the same time, she retains her keen sense of balance on the subject of female leadership. “When there are more women, the tone of the conversation changes and the goal of the conversation changes,” she observed in a 2010 TED talk. “But it doesn’t mean that the whole world would be a lot better if it were all women. If you think that, you’ve forgotten high school.”

Tufts will award Albright an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.