After more than an hour of regaling a crowd at the University of Cincinnati's Shoemaker Center with war stories and his thoughts on saving America's youth, retired Gen. Colin Powell couldn't escape the one question that was on everyone's mind.
"General Powell, are you ever going to run for president?" the bold man with the microphone asked as the first question from the audience, and the crowd responded with thunderous applause. It was something many wanted to ask.
"He's the most qualified person for the job," said Tamika Vinson, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Cincinnati. "He embodies what the American people want. He's for diversity; he's for kids. He's the epitome of what a president should be." Gen. Powell, who was speaking to celebrate Worldfest, the university's recognition of its international community, at times even talked as a candidate might.
"The American public is looking for responsible government. . . . They're looking for smaller government. . . . They want their taxes reduced," he said.
But his answer to the presidential-candidacy question was a definite "no." He said he had considered running for the office in 1996, and that he and his wife decided against it. "We decided it would be best for me, and best for my wife, to serve the nation in private life," he said.
His answer was not popular with the crowd of about 7,500, but he was quickly forgiven. He had already captured the crowd with anecdotes from his days rubbing elbows with world leaders.
The former chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke of sitting across from an agitated Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988, who was insistent that he was serious about ending the Cold War.
"I'm sorry," the former Soviet Union leader said, looking into Gen. Powell's eyes, "you will have to find a new enemy."
Gen. Powell also attended Nelson Mandela's inauguration, and was surprised to see four of the South African leader's former jailers sitting in the front.
Most of Gen. Powell's speech focused on his work on behalf of America's young people. He runs an organization known as America's Promise: The Alliance for Youth.
He said this country must make sure every young person has a "responsible, caring, loving adult in their life" and a safe place to go. "If we do these two things, we will go a long way toward creating a sense of community for young people."