Tony Blair becomes fifth head of state to speak in Bryan Series


Tony Blair emphasizes a point from the podium in the Greensboro Coliseum. Blair spoke to a sold-out crowd about unity, ideologies, and the 21st century. (Douglas Reyes-Ceron)

A large crowd flocked to the Greensboro Coliseum Tuesday night to hear the insights of Tony Blair, former prime minister of the United Kingdom and member of Britain’s Labour party. The night began with introductions from Associate Vice President for Communications and Marketing Ty Buckner and President and Professor of Political Science Kent Chabotar.

Chabotar’s introductory speech began with political background on Blair and his achievements as prime minister. He recognized Blair’s role in helping Ireland find peace both domestically and in global relations. In his 10 years as prime minister, Blair encouraged an improved education policy and transformed his country’s socialist health care system into one that competes effectively in capitalism. Blair was also influential in the push for NATO intervention in Kosovo.

When Blair took the stage and the crowd’s applause had died down, some audience members may have been surprised that his speech had a lighthearted tone with humor interwoven throughout.

However, some who attended in hopes of enlightenment or political wisdom felt that they left the stadium with empty pockets.

“I thought he generalized about America too much and never said anything of real substance,” said first-year Jorden Yeargan. “I’m glad I went, but I don’t think I got much out of it.”

Though some felt disappointed by Blair’s presentation, others appreciated his openness.

“I really appreciate the fact that he was willing to answer any question even though his answers were not that different from what I expected,” said senior Nicole Guilfoyle, who attended the student session with Blair. “I still appreciate the fact that he was courteous and open with Guilford students.”

Blair addressed a plethora of issues, including the economic crisis in the U.S. His suggestion to the U.S. government was to “get the economy moving” and “create jobs.”

These notions are not new ones, and Blair gave no concrete methods to do this, but his words positively received by the audience, nonetheless.

“We need to have confidence, regulate the system, and I’m a big believer of free trade,” said Blair. “We need to return to innovation and optimism.”

Though Blair’s speech may not have offered many practical methods or concrete statistics, his encouragements seemed to be uttered with the intent of motivation.

In many instances, Blair’s speech caused people’s chests to puff up with American pride.

“Optimism is what makes America get up and go in the morning,” Blair said.

The speech was filled with messages of hope and a call for unity. He brought this sentiment to a discussion of religion.

“One problem is global ideology that’s based on a perversion of religion,” said Blair. “If people of different faiths don’t learn to live, work, and learn with each other, then it will result in a lack of respect for each other.”

Throughout, Blair shared stories that sparked great laughter. He included an anecdote about his attempt to speak French at a press conference with the prime minister of France. When attempting to say that he agreed with the French prime minister, Blair accidentally said the suggestive, “I desire the prime minister in many different positions.”

But in the end, his overall message was forward-thinking.

“The twenty-first century is not going anywhere without us,” Blair said. “There will be new partners, new challenges, but the direction is up to us. The destination will be one to celebrate.”

Having Blair speak at the Bryan Series was a rare opportunity for many students, faculty, staff, and members of the greater Greensboro community. While he politely declined to comment on President Obama, he did tailor his speech to his American audience and correctly identified a lot of the current political problems we face today.

Next in the Bryan Series will be choreographer Twyla Tharp on Oct. 27. Tickets will be available to students on Oct. 10 in Founders Hall Lobby.