Hundreds braved the chilly Thursday evening, eagerly filling seats in Central Connecticut State University’s Welte Hall auditorium in anticipation of a special event, a speech by Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

The speech, often punctuated by audience applause, had a part motivational, part memoir style, peppered with light-hearted jokes throughout.

“I used to think that being a Republican in New York City entitled me endangered species status,” said Giuliani. “But now I’m convinced that being a moderate Republican entitles me endangered species status; I might be the only one left.”

Following this, he shared that although he’s a fiscal conservative with very strong views about the war on terror – views, Giuliani quipped, “you really don’t want to know,” he’s also a social moderate with pro-choice and pro-gay rights views. Giuliani stressed that the GOP should do more to reach out to the Hispanic community.

Recalling the staunch, anti-immigrant stance that many Republican candidates take on immigration today, Giuliani reminded the audience that the party’s most beloved figure didn’t share their hardline views. “Ronald Reagan gave illegal immigrants amnesty,” he said. “Now you say that and it’s like you want to let a serial killer out of jail.”

He expressed the need for the GOP to change their approach and reach out to Hispanic voters, saying, “You’re hurting the American worker if you keep out the immigrants.”

For Giuliani, being an optimist is absolutely essential to finding success. “If you want to be a leader, you darn well better be an optimist,” he said.

To find success, he believes, “You have to have an idea of what’s important to you.”

At the end of the speech, audience members took turns asking questions on everything from law school advice to another possible presidential run.

The most touching moment of the speech came after the final question from the audience.

A young woman stepped up to the mic and asked Giuliani why he holds a negative view of teachers unions but actively supports other unionized groups, like law enforcement. Giuliani explained that with other groups, bad employees get fired, but under the current system, bad teachers rarely do.

Following this answer, the young woman approached the stage and asked Giuliani if she could have a hug. Giuliani smiled and replied, “How about a kiss?” embracing her as the audience cheered.

As a former mob prosecutor, Giuliani began his mayoral term on a quest to stop crime and clean up the city’s gritty streets. The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center shocked the nation, but Giuliani kept a steely resolve despite the ensuing panic.

This ability to maintain the appearance of calm in even the most difficult of situations brought Giuliani international recognition. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, dubbed “Rudy the Rock” by French President Jacques Chirac, made Person of the Year by TIME Magazine and earned the prestigious Ronald Reagan Presidential Freedom Award.

CCSU chose Giuliani as the 2013 speaker for the Robert C. Vance Distinguished Lecture Series, a program organized by the Robert C. Vance Charitable Foundation and the CCSU Foundation.

Named after journalist, former New Britain Herald publisher, and longtime CCSU supporter Robert C. Vance, the series has attracted high-caliber speakers for three decades. Notable past lecturers include Steve Forbes; former presidents Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush; and famed journalists Bob Woodward, Dan Rather and Anderson Cooper.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Steve Forbes as “the late Steve Forbes.”