video iconMichelle Vatalaro ’10 had signed up for the Liberal Democracy and Its Limits course because she thought it sounded interesting.

What she didn’t know at the time was how being in the political science class was going to bring her face to face on Saturday night with Tony Blair, the former prime minister of Britain.

The senior and about 50 other students had the chance to speak with Blair in a quiet campus setting before he spoke to an audience of more than 4,500 people at Sanford Field House.

Vatalaro said she was grateful for the opportunity to sit “literally two feet from a former prime minister of the United Kingdom, ask him a question, and get a real answer.”

That kind of interaction was one of the reasons Blair was invited to campus as part of the Global Leaders Lecture Series.

tony blair
Tony Blair speaks Saturday  in Sanford Field House. See more photos  (Photo by Andy Daddio)

Blair spoke to the Family Weekend audience about the need for a different type of politics to cope with a rapidly changing world that is facing significant challenges involving the economy, security, and climate change.

“This new world requires new leadership, a resurgence of confidence, and a willingness to stand up for what we really believe in.”

Power is shifting to the East, he said, and politicians in the West must rethink a political system based on left vs. right or Liberal vs. Tory and consider whether they are going to be “open or closed” to developing relationships with nations such as China and India.


Watch the video of one of Colgate’s a cappella groups, The Resolutions, singing three songs as part of the introduction for Tony Blair, including “Where The Streets Have No Name” by Irish band U2. Blair raved over the group’s version of what he said is his favorite song, and promised to have U2’s Bono, a friend of his,  autograph the group’s recording of it.

Tony Blair delivers lecture

See photos from Family Weekend

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In his speech and during the earlier session with students, Blair was asked if countries such as America and Britain should be trying to install democracies in other nations.

“Our societies stand for an important way of life,” said Blair. “I don’t want to impose ideas, but I do believe this: The values of freedom, democracy, and rule of law are universal values of the human spirit. When given the chance, people will choose them.”

Blair, who served as Britain’s prime minister from 1997 to 2007, received several standing ovations during his speech.

He also drew big laughs from the audience when describing his first appearance bepfore Queen Elizabeth II after the 2006 movie, The Queen, had come out. The Queen told him that she would not be seeing the movie, and “asked” him if he would. ” ‘No, no, of course I won’t’,” Blair said he replied, adding that he has yet to see it.

Blair’s appearance was the fourth event sponsored by the Global Leaders Lecture Series, which is funded by the Parents and Grandparents’ Fund. Previous speakers were Colin Powell (April 2009), the Dalai Lama (2008), and award-winning authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (2007).

Tony Kwiatkowski P’86, who has come to Colgate to hear Powell and other speakers, also enjoyed Blair. “I respect him for being a neutralizer,” he said. “He’s been good at balancing and airing the world’s problems.”