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The Radcliffe College Alumni Association awarded former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright the Radcliffe Medal at the Association’s annual luncheon in Cambridge on June 8.
The award is given each year to honor an individual who has had a “significant impact on society.”
The Czech-born Albright was America’s first female Secretary of State and is the highest-ranking woman in the history of U.S. government.
Albright called the award a “profound honor” and praised Radcliffe for “its history and beauty, the excellence of its academic work, and its commitment to intellectual honesty and social justice.”
Mixing humor and serious topics, Albright’s acceptance speech reflected on past developments and present exigencies, and on her own career-in-transition as she ends her eight-year tenure as secretary.
She stressed the seriousness of existing world problems: the growing wave of alien smuggling, the spread of AIDS, and the persistence of female oppression across the globe.
“In too many countries, women…are victims of domestic abuse, dowry murders, coerced abortions, mutilation, and even the killing of infants,” she said. “Some say all this is cultural and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. I say it’s criminal and we each have an obligation to stop it.”
Albright urged an end to complacency and acceptance of oppression and wrong-doing.
“The right response to wrong is not to throw up our hands; but rather to roll up our sleeves; not to complain; but to act,” she said.
Born in Prague to Jewish parents on the eve of the second World War, Albright and her family fled to London in 1939 and were granted asylum in the United States nine years later.
Before replacing Warren Christopher as President Clinton’s secretary of state, Albright served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She was also president of the Center for National Policy and taught at Georgetown University.
Past recipients of the Radcliffe Medal include singer Lena Horne, Harvard President Emeritus Derek C. Bok, American Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole, Washington Post Publisher Katherine Graham, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Harvard Overseer Doris Kearns Goodwin, and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.
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