By Pat ShermanFormer U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offered words of inspiration and encouragement to students at The Bishop’s School on Jan. 19, urging them to follow their passion and make the most of their education.Rice addressed students during the school’s Endowed Leadership Lecture Series assembly. The annual event brings to the school individuals whose leadership achievements make them role models for Bishop’s students. Prior to the presentation, Rice was awarded The Bishop’s Medal — the school’s highest honor.
During her address, Rice encouraged students not to coast along with a sense of entitlement. “There are many, many people just as smart, just as intelligent, just as capable, who will never get the chances and the opportunities that you’re getting,” she said. “It’s a privilege to get a great education. Never take it for granted.”
Rice spoke of her youthful ambition to become a concert pianist, a dream she abandoned in college after attending the Aspen Music Festival and School training camp, where she discovered there were students more advanced than she. “I thought, uh-oh. … I’m about to end up teaching 13-year-olds … or maybe I’m going to play piano bars or at Nordstrom,” she quipped.
As a student at the University of Denver, Rice took a course in international politics and became smitten with Russia. “There was no Earthly reason that a black girl from Birmingham, Alabama ought to want to be a Soviet specialist,” she said. “It was just what I was passionate about. … Don’t let somebody else define your passion by your gender or your race or where you come from.”
In order to be on top of their game, Rice advised students not to burn the candle at both ends, taking time to get rest and exercise. “When I was the Secretary of State … I told my staff, ‘You do not want me making decisions on behalf of the United States of America on four hours sleep,’” she said. “Take care of yourself now. You’re body will take care of you when you are older.”
Following her presentation, Rice fielded questions from students. Sophomore Alejandra Gallegos asked Rice for her definition of success.
“Financial success can go away just like that,” Rice cautioned. “To me the most successful people are people who find meaning in their lives. They believe that they are having an impact on issues or causes that they care about.”
Seventh-grader Andres Worstell asked, “How do you argue against a president when you disagree with their action, statement or decision?”
Rice said the key is to have an “open and honest” relationship with the president. “If the president ultimately disagrees with you and takes another course, if it is something that somehow violates your values, then you have one choice, which is to resign,” she said. “Then you can say whatever you want.
“I never faced that situation with President Bush. I never felt that a decision — if it was a decision that I didn’t agree with — had violated my principles.”
In regard to the Bush Administration’s decision to enter into war with Iraq, sophomore Hanna Bourne asked, “Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?”
Rice answered, “Where we really didn’t succeed was in quelling the violence in Iraq among the insurgents. We probably didn’t have enough troops on the ground. ... We put too much focus on Baghdad, and not enough focus on what was a very big country. Yes, there are several things that I would do differently, but the one thing I would not do differently? I would not leave Saddam Hussein in power.”
Freshman Adeline Shin asked what it was like to experience the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 as a member of the Bush Administration.
Rice said the worst moment of that day was “15 awful minutes” in which she and other White House officials believed that the Pentagon had ordered the military to shoot down United Airlines Flight 93, which she said they later learned had been “driven into the ground by passengers to prevent another attack.”
“What happens to you if you’re in a position of authority on that day is you resolve that you can never let it happen again,” Rice said. “I’ve often said that after September 11, every day after that was September 12.”
Following the presentation, Rice lunched with eight people who won the honor through a school auction.
“Collectively, the people who bought this opportunity raised the equivalent of two full scholarships to Bishop’s,” said the school’s director of marketing and communications, Suzanne Weiner. “It goes to our financial aid program, which speaks to Condoleezza’s passion for children and education.”