It was early in President Barack Obama’s second term, and Samantha Power, who was then a special assistant to the President and senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights at the National Security Council, was at the White House for a dinner. Except instead of mingling or discussing business, Power was in a corner on the phone arguing with her stepfather, Eddie.
There was an issue at home. Power had left her 11-month-old daughter with her stepfather, who, thinking he had milk, was trying to bottle feed Power’s daughter rice pudding. President Obama overheard the argument and grabbed the phone.
“He’s like ‘I got this,’” Power said. “And he takes the phone out of my hand, and he’s like ‘Eddie, Eddie, no, no, no, no, no. First thing is, deep breath. Second thing is, I’m the President of the United States. You have got to find the milk.’”
As Power, frazzled, tried to get her bearings, Obama had more important issues to discuss: Tom Donilon was resigning as national security adviser, he was going to tap U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice to fill the vacancy, and he wanted to nominate Power to take Rice’s position as ambassador. Suddenly, the embarrassing interaction between her stepfather and the president was the last thing on her mind.
Power shared the story Oct. 18 in a 45-minute question-and-answer session that followed her nearly hour-long address, “Changing Your Slice of the World,” as the second Peter S. Hagerman ’61 Lecture in Ethics.
The story was prompted by a student inquiry on her biggest fear upon learning she was being nominated to become the U.S. Ambassador. She told the audience that filled Packard Lab, Room 101, that her appointment was being vetted by a score-settling U.S. Senate. Power, who eventually became the youngest-ever U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, was worried about distortion and posturing nonsense that could embarrass the president and tried to review every word she had ever written and think of any video clips that existed of her.
Accompanied by a slide show, Power began the lecture by listing a number of major world problems, including 70 million people displaced (more than by Hitler, she noted), climate change and income inequality. A slide behind her showed photos of Russian President Vladamir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, a tombstone inscribed with “R.I.P. Newspapers,” President Donald Trump, the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. and an illustration of cyber attacks all surrounding a very small picture of Power with the words…