Condoleezza Rice: Inspiration for Any Generation
A true role model rarely ever begins his or her journey by announcing that he or she wants to lead or become role models. Instead, these individuals simply begin a path, follow a dream, and never give up. Along the way, they are recognized for their talents and efforts and it becomes clear that they are extraordinary because they persevere. A modern-day example of this kind of role model is Condoleezza Rice. Rice was born into a society that seemed to be against her. An African-American woman born in 1954, Rice proves that women of any race and color can not only become successes but also become highly influential people. In the end, it is one’s character that survives. From her tenure at Stanford to Serving as Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice proves that she has what it takes to succeed, which is determination, a willingness to learn, and confidence.
Rice’s story is one that begins in the racially charged town of Birmingham, Alabama, the “focal point of the Civil Rights movement” (Felix 3). While her story might have started in Birmingham, it certainly would not end there. This beginning and circumstance was not something that John and Angelena Rice would allow to deter their daughter. From the very beginning, they made sure that Rice had everything available to her that would encourage her to grow and learn. Rice was incredibly lucky in that she had two educated parents that were concerned about the education of their daughter. Her parents were both college educated and believed that she “would have to learn certain things if she was to succeed” (Edmondson 15). This learning came early, as she knew how to read and write before she ever stepped into any school. Jacqueline Edmondson writes, “when her teachers realized Condi’s capabilities, they agreed to have her skip the first grade” (Edmondson 16). While this meant that she would be younger than her classmates, it also meant that she would not spend time in a class going over material with which she was already familiar. Later she even skipped the seventh grade. To ensure their daughter would not be left behind, Rice’s parents bought new textbooks for Rice’s classes so that the children “could study up-to-date information” (16). Her parents even enrolled her in book clubs so she would never want for anything to read. Rice explained, ‘”I grew up in a family in which my parents put me into every book club, so I never developed the fine art of recreational reading” (Rice qtd. In Edmonson 16). It can come as no surprise that Rice would emerge from childhood with an expanded education but that only led to a hunger for more knowledge.
Desire is always discovered somewhere on the path of success. This desire to learn and grow was something that Rice’s parents took care to instill in their daughter so when it came time to attend college, she had a firm understanding of what she loved and what drove her interests. Another thing that undoubtedly helped Rice to become an assertive individual was the fact that he parents encouraged her “independent thinking by including her in family decisions” (16). Learning to think for herself would eventually bring her the confidence to advise the president on matters of grave importance. However, not all of this came without obstacles. Edmondson writes, “Rice understood at an early age that she had to accomplish well beyond what was expected of her white peers if she was going to succeed in life” (Edmondson 17). Rice said that by being African-American, “You were taught that you were good enough, but you might have to be twice as good, given you’re black” (17). While this might have been a reason to give up or look toward another career, Rice only saw those words as simply words and decided that she would do what she wanted to do. Her dreams led her to a field of science and politics, areas that girls were not expected to be interested in but we see now the result of letting a girl follow her interests.
Rice’s interest in many things accounts for well-rounded nature. She loves the piano, ice-skating and Russia but few might not know that she also has a passion for football. Her claims that her appreciation for football helped her while she served as National Security Advisor. Elisabeth Bumiller writes that Rice was so well-educated about football that she would compare the strategy of football to that of war in that “it’s all about taking territory” (Rice qtd. In Bumiller 71). While one might not think football and politics bear much in common, Rice might beg to differ. Rice selected Notre Dame as a graduate school and one of the reasons Felix believes she decided to attend this university was because of its political science program. There Rice could take part in one of the “country’s top Soviet study centers” (Felix 89). David Brinkley states the Rice excelled at Notre Dame partially because she was a “self-driven student” (Felix 92). Brinkley also notes that Rice picked up Russian so easily simply because she had “knack” (92) for it. At Notre Dame, Rice “did far more independent study work than any of the other students in the program” (Felix 93). In 1980, Rice took a part-time job at the Science Applications International Corporation, where she developed a fondness for military intelligence. Bumiller writes that she found it “alluring” (Bumiller 77), intellectual, and challenging. In this environment, Rice was a “rarity” (77) in that she was not only an African-American but a woman as well. This experience, Bumiller writes, might have been incredibly influential in her “metamorphosis from a piano student to right-leaning Soviet specialist” (78). As a result of this transformation, Rice found herself at Stanford’s arms control center, a “formally all-male, all-white bastion of the nation’s elite” (89). While there, she asked Sidney Drell, a theoretical physicist at Standford, to teach her the “technology of nuclear weapons” (Bumiller 80). Rice became an assistant professor of political science at Stanford in 1982, teaching such courses as Comparative Civil-Military Relations and the Soviet Union in the Third World. Her dissertation was published as a book in 1984. Rice was granted tenure at Stanford, which a “major achievement” (Bumiller 91). In 1987, she was promoted to associate professor of political science at Stanford.
However, the academic world would not be able to keep Rice. In 1984, she became foreign policy advisor to Gary Hart, a move that started Rice’s gradual move away from academia. She was also giving speeches and “moving beyond the realm of an ordinary professor” (Bumiller 86). In 1986, Rice began a yearlong fellowship at the Hoover Institution to work on a project entitled The Gorbachev Era. The next year she attended Reagan’s Council of Foreign Relations and experienced the “inner workings of the Defense Department” (Bumiller 89-90) at a time when arms negotiations with the Soviet Union was a hot issue. Bumiller writes that Rice called this “one of the best experiences of my life'” (Rice qtd. In Bumiller 90). Her thirst for politics would simply not be quelled.
Rice seemed to find her place first as national Security Advisor during George W. Bush’s first term and as Secretary of State under Bush’s second term. In 1989, when the new Bush administration began, Rice found herself in a spacious West Wing office, focusing her attention on the Soviet Union and Gorbachev. Her job became even more important after the events of September 11, 2001. Interestingly, Rice was not always a Republican as many may think. In 1980, Bumiller notes that she voted for Reagan over Carter even though she was still a registered Democrat. She states that her motivation for voting for Reagan was how Carter reacted to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. In 1982, she registered as Republican. Whether or not one agrees with Rice’s political views, it cannot be argued that she is a role model. Perhaps another characteristic that helped her achieve is her desire to excel. In an interview, Rice noted that she likes to “do things well . . . But I like to keep all of it in perspective. Because ultimately what matters when you leave this earth is the relationships you leave behind. . Your religious faith is all that there is to sustain you. Getting too focused on anything else is a problem” (Rice qtd. In Beamish). Rice is also noted for her maturity. She never took it easy – even when she was in high school. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reports that she was on a “mission to twice-as-good by taking on new challenges in Denver — primarily in sports” (JBHE 67). Felix agrees with this assertion of Rice. She reports that Rice would wake up at 4:30 in the morning and went to practice ice-skating and from there, went to school. Her family even loaned a piano so that their daughter could practice as late at night as she wanted. Rice even started attending college before she graduated high school. It was an experience that helped her learn about herself, Felix writes. It is “almost a footnote the musical accomplishments Condi made at fifteen” (Felix 69). The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education maintains that while African-Americans have often perceived as lazy and inarticulate, Rice “made a huge contribution to dismantling the traditional stereotype” (22) while speaking at the National Commission on Terrorism. During the questioning, she “finessed and Cheshire-catted her way through some tough questions” (23) and while she was defending Bush’s administration’s actions prior to September 11, she remained “forceful and compelling in public testimony before the 9/11 commission” (23). Clearly, the poise that Rice learned as a little girl came in handy when she needed it the most. Many reports about Rice’s demeanor during the questioning was nothing but admirable of her grace, charm, and poise.
These attributes, along with the desire to learn and grow, work well to establish self-confidence in anyone, especially an African-American woman born in Birmingham when civil rights were an inflamed issue. Condoleezza Rice demonstrates that we are generally the only things holding us back. With determination and a strong focus, we can accomplish anything and Rice has demonstrated this through her life and her example.
Beamish, Rita. “When She Speaks, the World Listens White House Adviser Condoleezza Rice.”
Biography. 2001. EBSCO Resource Database. Information Retreived July 19, 2009.
Bumiller, Elisabeth. Condoleezza Rice: An American Life. New York: Random House. 2007.
“Condoleezza Rice’s Virtuoso Performance before the National Commission on Terrorism: She
Turns Racial Stereotypes Upside Down.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.
2004. JSTOR Resource Database.
Edmondson, Jacqueline. Condoleezza Rice. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing. 2007.
Felix, Antonia. Condi: The Condoleezza Rice Story. New York: New Market Press. 2005.
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