Salve Regina University Honors Senator Jack Reed with Claiborne Pell Center Award

via The Pell Center

Salve Regina University honored Sen. Jack Reed with the Claiborne Pell Center Award for his service to the United States and the citizens of Rhode Island on Thursday, April 4, 2024.  The award was presented in a ceremony at Salve Regina University’s campus in Newport.

Several of Sen. Claiborne Pell’s grandchildren, including Dr. Tripler Pell, Clay Pell and Eames Yates, joined Salve Regina President Dr. Kelli Armstrong on stage as she presented the award to Reed.  “Senator Reed is respected by members of both parties, humble, decent, and a patriot,” said Armstrong.  “Each one of us has our own collection of treasured stories and memories of Senator Jack Reed,” she continued.  She added that Reed was himself educated by Sisters of Mercy, who founded Salve Regina University.  She said, “this award is given to an individual who reflects our highest values at Salve, and Senator Reed’s work advancing democracy is in alignment with our mission.”  Armstrong lauded the senior senator’s commitment to the people affected most by the decisions made in Washington and the voice he has given to concerns about the health of our democracy.  “With duty, selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage, both physical and moral, he is heard beyond the confines of Washington, and people listen, regardless of party,” she concluded.

Upon receiving the award, Reed described Senator Pell as “an inspiration from the first time I met him.”  He described the days before the 1960 election when Claiborne Pell was running for Senate.  Reed remembered Pell’s motorcade passing by Saint Matthews School in Cranston, RI where he was a student, eliciting laughter from the audience when he said it was “the first time I saw Sisters of Mercy jumping up and down and swooning.”  Reed described Pell as a mentor, saying anyone with him could sense his “genuine concern, respect and appreciation for those he served, doing everything he could do make real the American dream, opportunity for all and a safe and peaceful world.”

Reed described Pell’s early years, saying he could have easily obtained staff job in the military during World War II, but he instead chose to join the U.S. Coast Guard as a cook and braved fierce storms and German U-Boats on the Atlantic alongside his enlisted ‘coasties,’ from low-income backgrounds and many who were new immigrants.  Reed said, “there, he truly met America.”  He added that the first notion of a Pell Grant may have been heard by a young “coastie” peeling potatoes in the ship’s galley.  To Pell, being an American was a quality of the heart that respected our laws and strove to build a better, more decent world for all.  Closing his remarks, Reed said, “today, I receive an award that embodies the life and service of the late Senator and I’m reminded of how much more I have to do to be worthy of an award bearing the name Claiborne Pell.”

Reed was interviewed about his service and current issues facing the state and the nation by Pell Center Executive Director Dr. Jim Ludes following the award presentation.  Ludes asked Reed what drew him to politics, to which he responded, “I came from the World War II generation, where public service is something you must do, not something that was an option.” Reed credits his time at the United States Military Academy and military service as a U.S. Army Ranger with helping him understand the importance of calling on others’ expertise.  He adds, “leading American soldiers was greatest privilege an American can have.”

Regarding the health of American democracy, Reed expressed his concern.  He said between active combat in Ukraine, conflict in the Holy Land, the rise of China during U.S. engagement in the Middle East after 2001, and a slew of domestic and cultural issues that have accompanied the rise of social media, “we’re facing a combination of challenges we haven’t seen in a long time.”  Reed recognized social media’s potential to be weaponized against Americans and our democracy and recognized the rise of artificial intelligence and its ability to supercharge disinformation.  Regarding the upcoming presidential election in November, he acknowledged the threat of malign foreign influence, saying, “we know they’re targeting us.  We did a good job in 2018 and 2020 of going after foreign actors, but [this election] going to be a race we have a lot do a lot to keep up.”

When asked about U.S. foreign policy, Reed said the international order established after World War II is currently at stake in Ukraine. “You don’t seize control of a country,” he said, adding that Russia directly threatens the values of democracy. “Putin won’t stop at Ukraine, so we can’t stop supporting the defense efforts there.”  He cautioned ceasing American support in Ukraine will send a signal to China that “the U.S. doesn’t have ‘stick-with-it’ power.”

Regarding the conflict Holy Land, Ludes referenced Reed’s recent speech on the Senate floor, where he recognized Israel’s right to defend itself, but expressed deep reservations about the conduct of the war, saying “I believe good allys, good friends, stand together, but great allies, great friends, are willing to speak hard truths and hold each other to the highest standards, especially around the conduct of war and issues of national security.”  Reed elaborated on his recent comments, describing takeaways from his visit to Israel in October 2023, a week after violent conflict began.  He said, “Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] should step aside for the good of his country and [Mahmoud] Abbas, the president of the Palestinian authority, should step aside,” adding, Abbas “is just a figurehead with no ability to make the hard decisions that have to be made.”  Reed continued, “much of what [Netanyahu] was doing prior to the attack was using Hamas as a weapon against the Palestinian authority.”  He adds Netanyahu and his political base reject the two-state solution, to which Reed said is “one of the most complicated aspirations one could have […] but the alternatives to a one-state solution would lead to ethnic removal or an apartheid state,” adding neither are not principles that the United States can affirm, despite our own history.

Ludes described mercy, a central value for the Sisters of Mercy, as putting empathy into practice in tangible ways.  When asked about the role of mercy in public life, Reed said it “looks like giving every American a chance.  If you do that, stand back because this county will do great things.”  He described what mercy means for him as a public leader, saying he asks himself, “what are the problems our citizens are facing, and what are the issues that I should know about that I don’t?”  Reed credits Rhode Island’s small size with helping him get to know its residents and issues on a deeper level than many of his Senate colleagues.  “I can talk to two or three people if I want to and the kind of understanding that gives me is critical to working toward meaningful change.”  He said Sen. Pell embodied the kind of approachability that comes with living and serving a small state.




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