Colin Powell: I enjoyed Obama one-upping Trump

Retired Gen. Colin Powell speaks to graduating class at South Carolina State University's spring commencement exercises Friday evening, in Orangeburg, S.C. Christopher Huff,AP Photo/Times & Democrat

ORANGEBURG, S.C. - Colin Powell told graduates of South Carolina's premier historically black university that they were graduating during a tumultuous time that saw a royal wedding, the beatification of a pope, and a U.S. military assault that killed Osama bin Laden, "the worst person on earth."

But the former secretary of state and Joint Chiefs chairman told the 400 graduates of South Carolina State University that he particularly enjoyed another event of the past week: "That was when President Obama took out his birth certificate and blew away Donald Trump and all the birthers!"

The stadium and its 400 graduates roared in appreciation of Powell's comments on the president's move last week to quell the doubts expressed by those who haven't believed that he was born in Hawaii.

The retired Army four-star general said the week's developments might make them forget who delivered their commencement address, so he spelled it out.

"It's P-O-W-E-L-L and don't you all forget it," Powell said with a hearty laugh.

He told the graduates it was time to "get serious," so he admonished them to lend a hand to help troubled youngsters who aren't getting an education or graduating from high school.

"We are losing too many of our kids," he told the graduates of the university founded to educate blacks in the racially divided state in 1896. "Don't worry about saving the world: Save a kid."

After leaving the military and diplomatic life, Powell has been involved in several groups mentoring at-risk youth. He told the graduates that the nation as a whole suffers when one-third of those who enter high school don't graduate, and in particular when almost 50 percent of minority youth never get a high school diploma.

"Don't look for a superman to fix it," Powell instructed his audience. "The answer is right here in this field."

With some humor, Powell looked back on his own experience at City College of New York, saying he'd been able to squeak through with a degree and a 2.0 grade average because he got all A's in his military science courses in the Reserve Officer Training Corps.

"So if you're not graduating with a 3.8 or above, have faith," Powell cracked.

Powell told the graduates they will find a purpose in life if they do what they love, and work hard to achieve what they dream about.

Earlier Friday, Powell was made an honorary member of the school's ROTC hall of fame. The school's military program has graduated 2,040 military officers since its first class in 1949.

The program produces more minority officers for the U.S. Army than any other, including the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, school officials said.

Powell told the cadets that the sense of discipline the military instills will help them make their mark.

"You can do it," he said. "Don't look for role models. Be your own role model."

Powell credited his entry into ROTC at City College of New York for putting him on a path toward a military career that changed his life. Powell was the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs, which is the highest military position in the Department of Defense and is the chief military adviser to the president. He also served as the first black Secretary of State under President George W. Bush. Powell stepped down after Bush's first term and endorsed Obama's presidential bid in 2008.

"Success isn't what you achieve in life, success is what you do every day," Powell told a group of cadets, students, retired military officers who graduated from the program and military professors in the school's military science program.

A son of Jamaican immigrants, Powell was educated in New York City schools and was raised in the South Bronx.

If it hadn't been for ROTC, Powell joked, "I'd probably be driving a bus in the Bronx."

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.