Rice shares viewpoint on world leaders and developing leaders

When Condoleezza Rice became U.S. secretary of state in 2005, it reflected how far America had come in 50 years. Born in 1954 in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, she was the first African American woman to serve in this role.

On October 9, 2019, Dr. Condoleezza Rice visited Purdue UniversityAnd as she took the oath of office, Rice stood in front of Benjamin Franklin’s portrait, pledging allegiance to the Constitution, while being sworn in by Ruth Bader Ginsburg — the first Jewish woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. “It took a couple hundred years, but you know, we got there,” she told a sold-out crowd in Elliott Hall of Music.

Rice received a standing ovation upon taking the stage Oct. 9 for one of the final events commemorating Purdue’s sesquicentennial, 150 Years of Giant Leaps. President Mitch Daniels, her former White House colleague, facilitated the evening’s conversation, which covered myriad topics: from Rice’s upbringing and proficiency on the piano to international relations and California’s Fair Pay to Play Act.

Rice spent considerable time fielding Daniels’ questions on world affairs, offering perspectives on several foreign nations and leaders. She discussed everyone from Russian President Vladimir Putin to North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.

It was a Q&A segment with Purdue students, however, that reflected Rice’s passion for education and young people. Since 1981, she has been a professor of political science at Stanford University, where she also served as provost from 1993-99. She currently is the Denning Professor in Global Business and the Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, as well as the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution.

“I’ve always considered myself first and foremost a professor,” Rice stated, sharing her thoughts on numerous subjects.

On developing leaders:

“I’m not really sure you’re destined for leadership,” Rice said when asked how young women can fulfill their leadership calling. “I think what happens is over your life you find yourself in ever more responsible positions just because people see qualities in you that maybe you don’t even see in yourself.” Drawing on personal experience, she pointed to her tenure serving President George H.W. Bush as a Soviet specialist, which led to his son, President George W. Bush, selecting her as the first female national security advisor, and ultimately secretary of state.

Rice said, “Don’t think, Oh, I’ve got to be a leader. It’s actually not a job description, and it’s not a destination.” Instead, she encouraged students to seek opportunities to lead and organize people, adding, “Slowly but surely, you’ll find you move up that ladder and get ever more responsible positions.”

She also told young women present that they likely will find themselves in male-dominated professional circles at some point, something to which she can relate. “Sometimes I walked into the room, and people looked at me like I was in the wrong meeting,” she said. “But pretty soon they knew I was in the right meeting. You can do just about anything you want.”

On higher education:

“I wouldn’t want to do anything else,” Rice said of teaching. “But we do need to change some things about our education. We need to make sure that we’re working as hard as we can on the important core issues.”

For those enrolled in her classes, this entails studying statistics and data science — in addition to exploring at least one great civilization that rose and ultimately fell due to hubris.

Finally, Rice encouraged students to pursue at least one meaningful encounter with the arts. “It can be music, it can be dance, it can be visual arts. The arts are the greatest expression of humanity,” she said.

On her parents’ influence:

 Something that became apparent throughout the evening was the impact Rice’s parents had in her success. “I really credit my parents with giving me the foundation to do the things that I’ve been able to do,” she said. Despite growing up in the segregated South — unable to enter a movie theater or eat lunch at Woolworth’s — Rice’s mother and father had unwavering faith in their daughter’s ability to become whatever she desired.


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