From eating lunch at Wheatley Cafe one meal to dining at the exclusive Duquesne Club for another, I was blessed with a once in a lifetime opportunity, eating dinner with former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, courtesy of the Honors Program. Stepping into the Duquesne Club, I could practically smell the wealth in the atmosphere. The atmosphere reflected the prominence of the man I was about to meet.
Dr. Robert Gates made a lifetime career serving in the CIA and National Security Council, working his way up under all of the presidential administrations since Lyndon Johnson. He reached the peak of his career as Director of Central Intelligence in 1987, and later, Secretary of Defense in 2006. With pages of achievements and accomplishments, I expected him to be utterly overwhelming when I finally got to shake his hand, but he was very down-to-earth and casual in manner. He was actually very short compared to what I imagined. This didn’t take away from his presence when everyone started asking him questions around the dinner table. As a career public servant, he seemed to know exactly what to say about everything.
The dinner itself was absolutely excellent. There were so many pieces of silverware and dishware in front of me that I need a quick dinner etiquette lesson from fellow Honors student, Katie Connell. The people I dined with were more than just ordinary people; they were some of the most influential people in Pittsburgh. Directly to my left, Larry Richard from KDKA studied furiously through his notes, preparing for the introduction of Robert Gates at Heinz Hall. He gave me a quick lesson in public speaking once we started talking. The rest of the room was filled with public figures and important business entrepreneurs in the Pittsburgh area. Luckily for me, I got to meet them all!
I left Heinz Hall after Gate’s talk dumfounded by my experience in the past six hours. I got a free meal, an excuse to dress up, and an invitation to meet the man widely considered the best Secretaries of Defense in the post-WWII era.