- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2000

Diplomatic humor

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, not known for her humor, left them laughing in the aisles when she delivered a commencement address over the weekend at George Washington University.

She told the class of 2000 how much she appreciated being selected as the graduation-day speaker. However… .

"If I were a graduate, I would have asked for Denzel Washington or Tom Cruise," she said.

"For graduates, [commencement day] is one of the five great milestones of life, the others being birth, death, marriage and the day you finally pay off your student loan.

"There is only one thing that can mar a ceremony such as this and that's the commencement speech.

"But I want to assure our graduates that I'm not going to tell you you'll never again have as much fun as you did in school, because that would depress you… .

"And I'm not going to place the weight of the world upon your shoulders, because you will feel it soon enough."

Seriously folks, it wasn't just a laugh-fest. She did have a message.

Mrs. Albright talked of the need for world trade that "benefits the hardworking many, not just the privileged few."

"This matters because I suspect you are like me," she said. "When we buy a blouse or a shirt, we want to know that it was not produced by workers who were underage, underpaid, under coercion or denied their basic right to organize.

"We Americans cannot and will not accept a global economy that rewards the lowest bidder without regard to standards. We want a future where profits come from perspiration and inspiration, not exploitation."

Mrs. Albright urged the graduates to be "doers not dabblers [and] to act with courage and compassion."

She called on them to "ennoble your own life, inspire others, serve your country, and explode outward the boundaries of what is achievable on this Earth."

Little Ricky vs. Hillary

The wife of the former Latvian ambassador, who grew up on Long Island, would have a hard time choosing between Rep. Rick Lazio and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in the New York Senate race.

In the 1960s, Irma Kalnins lived next door to the new Republican candidate. They were playmates. She used to call him "Little Ricky."

When her husband, Ojars, served as ambassador here from 1993 to 1999, Mrs. Kalnins developed a friendship with Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic candidate.

Fortunately for Mrs. Kalnins, she lives in Latvia and is no longer qualified to vote in New York.

She and Mr. Lazio lost touch over the years until she learned one day in 1999 that New York had a congressman with the name of the little boy she knew on Long Island. "She contacted him and found out he was the same 'Little Ricky' she had grown up with," Mr. Kalnins told Embassy Row in an e-mail yesterday. "We had lunch together last year before leaving Washington.

"On the other hand, Irma has known Hillary Clinton since July 6, 1994, when President Clinton and Hillary came to Riga," Mr. Kalnins said, referring to the Latvian capital.

Mrs. Clinton supported a Latvian hospital project and the two women became friends.

"In the ensuing years, they met often at diplomatic receptions and other events," Mr. Kalnins said.

When he asked his wife which candidate she would support if she still lived in New York, her answer showed she learned something from all of those diplomatic dinners.

"I am thrilled that my former home state has two such outstanding candidates for the Senate," she said. "I'd like to see them both win. New York does have two Senate seats, doesn't it?"

'Not a civil war'

Ambassador John Ernest Leigh of Sierra Leone yesterday insisted the fighting in his country is not a civil war, but a war waged by criminals who want to maintain control over the West African nation's diamond mines.

Mr. Leigh, speaking on "The Diane Rehm Show" on WAMU-FM radio, also asked the Rev. Jesse Jackson, President Clinton's peace envoy to the region, to call for a war-crimes investigation of the atrocities reputedly committed by the Revolutionary United Front.

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