By Katie Shatzer
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice encouraged American optimism and the continued defense of democracy in a lecture during the 12th Annual Scholarship Banquet at the Carl Perkins Civic Center on Oct. 20.
The Scholarship Banquet brought together about 1,775 people — donors, faculty, staff, students and other members of the Union community — for Rice’s lecture. The proceeds from the event benefit Union’s scholarship fund.
Rice served in the Bush administration as national security advisor from 2001 to 2005 and secretary of state from 2005 to 2009. She recently returned to teaching at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., where she taught and served as provost before her time in Washington, D.C.
“I keep reinventing myself,” Rice said to a group of students before the lecture. “I could never do the same thing all my life. … The nice thing about doing different kinds of work is that you keep growing and you don’t get stale.”
In her lecture, Rice defended Bush-era policy that focused on terrorism, explaining that terrorists only have to succeed once, while those who work to ensure national security have to be right 100 percent of the time.
Rice said terrorists come from “failed states,” where governments do not govern properly or effectively. She pointed out the progress in Afghanistan and urged listeners, in the interest of their own security, to allow democracies time to develop.
“We have to be patient with young democracies that are trying to emerge from failed states,” Rice said. “It’s not easy sometimes, but we have to recognize that people have to have a decent life. They have to have hope. … If people don’t have decent lives, if their governments aren’t decent to them, they are dangerous places.”
Rice also affirmed the importance of the private sector in recovering the American economy, as well as the role of the United States in the global economy.
She said that while many nations complain about the United States, they are glad it is not “just like any other country.” The vitality of the global economy affects the ability of the United States to help people and governments around the world build better lives and societies, she said.
“The global economy will only grow with private sector-led growth,” Rice said. “The private sector is creative, it is innovative and it is risk-taking. … The answers will not be found in Washington, D.C., but in … places where people live and work in the freest economy known to mankind. And we better keep it free.”
As the United States promotes democracy and a free economy, Rice said “we also have to remember who we are.” She described the national myth as a cornerstone of American identity, and recognized the United States as a nation of immigrants who are “the world’s most ambitious people.”
“A myth is not something that is not true, it is something that is a little outsized in your thinking,” Rice explained. “The American national myth is you can come from humble circumstances and you can do great things. It doesn’t matter where you came from, it matters where you’re going.”
Rice shared her family’s history and discussed the importance of higher education. She said Union students attend a university where “faith and reason are not at war,” and she encouraged students to find their passion.
“Your passion may find you, and when it does, there’s nothing like it,” Rice explained. “It’s like love. It finds you and it grasps you and it centers you. So take the time to find your passion — not a job, not a career, but what you really love and what makes you get up every morning, and do that.”
Rice also told students that it is their responsibility to be optimistic. At one point in her time as secretary of state, Rice said she spent time reading the biographies of the founding fathers to remind herself that others experienced tough, even impossible, circumstances.
“America is no place for cynicism,” Rice said.
In addition to her involvement at Stanford, Rice also works with the Boys and Girls Clubs, is a member of the board of trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Rice did not share any future political plans in her lecture or her interaction with students.
“I love doing university work,” Rice told the students. “I want to do more public service. The way I think of public service is not just being in government.”
Rice is also currently working on two books, one about her memoirs as secretary of state, and another about her parents, who were educators and civil rights activists.
“When I’m asked, ‘How did I become who I am?’ I always say, ‘You had to know my parents,’” Rice said. “They raised me in Alabama during pretty difficult times, yet they had me absolutely convinced that I could do anything that I wanted to do, and I think telling their story is one great way to tell a true American story about extraordinary, ordinary people.”