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Condoleezza Rice faces life’s challenges head on

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The story of Condoleezza Rice began in Birmingham, Alabama on November 14, 1954. Spending her formative years in the segregated Jim Crow South surrounded by racism, Condoleezza grew to be a dynamic example for any young girl to emulate, be she black, white, blue or green.

The only child of John Wesley Rice, Jr., a high school guidance counselor and Presbyterian minister and Angelena Ray, a high school science, music, and oratory teacher; her name is an Italian musical term “con dolcezza” which means “with sweetness”. Condoleezza grew up in Birmingham’s Titusville neighborhood, then moved to Tuscaloosa during the timeframe when the South was racially segregated.

Growing up, Condoleezza knew firsthand the injustices of Birmingham's discriminatory laws and attitudes. She was instructed by her parents to walk proudly in public and use the facilities at home rather than subject herself to the indignity of "colored" facilities in town. As Rice recalls of her parents and their peers, "They refused to allow the limits and injustices of that time to limit our horizons."

On a number of occasions, Condoleezza suffered discrimination due to her race, including being forced to use a storage room at a department store rather than a regular dressing room. She was barred from attending the circus or going to the local amusement park. Hotel rooms were denied to her and numerous times she was on the receiving end of bad food in restaurants.

Though Rice’s parents endeavored to keep her from areas where she might face discrimination, she was quite aware of struggle for civil rights and the problems inflicted on Negroes due to Jim Crow laws in Birmingham. Speaking of the segregation era, Rice said, "Those terrible events burned into my consciousness. I missed many days at my segregated school because of the frequent bomb threats." As Condoleezza practiced the piano during the violent days of the Civil Rights Movement, Reverend Rice armed himself and kept guard over the house.

Reverend Rice instilled in his daughter and others the fact black people would be required to prove themselves worthy of advancement. They must be "twice as good" to overcome injustices built into the system. Rice said “My parents were very strategic, I was going to be so well prepared, and I was going to do all of these things that were revered in white society so well, that I would be armored somehow from racism. I would be able to confront white society on its own terms." Though the goals of the civil rights movement gained the support of the Rices, they saw no reason to put their daughter in harm's way.

Her family ancestry is rooted in the American South, dating back to the pre-Civil War era. Following emancipation, a number of her ancestors worked as sharecroppers. Researching the PBS series Finding Your Roots, Rice discovered her genetic ancestry to be 51% African, 40% European and 9% Asian or Native American. Her mtDNA is traced back to the Tikar people of Cameroon.

At the age of three, Condoleezza began to learn French, figure skating, music and ballet. When she was 15, piano lessons were added. She stated her goal was to become a concert pianist. Though it never materialized, she continues to practice often and plays with a chamber music group.

On Sunday, September 15, 1963, four Negro girls were killed when a bomb went off at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. One of them, Denise McNair, was a friend of Condoleezza.

I remember the bombing of that Sunday School at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963. I did not see it happen, but I heard it happen, and I felt it happen, just a few blocks away at my father's church. It is a sound that I will never forget, that will forever reverberate in my ears. That bomb took the lives of four young girls, including my friend and playmate, Denise McNair. The crime was calculated to suck the hope out of young lives and bury their aspirations. But those fears were not propelled forward; those terrorists failed.

Racial segregation instilled in Condoleezza a determination against adversity. It also served to harden her stance on the right to bear arms. Had gun registration been mandatory during that time, her father's weapons would have been confiscated, which would have left the family defenseless against KKK Nightriders.

Reverend Rice moved his family to Denver, Colorado in 1967. Here Condoleezza enrolled in St. Mary’s Academy, at that time an all-girls Catholic high school located in Cherry Hills Village, Colorado. She graduated in 1971 at the age of 16 and enrolled at the University of Denver, where her father served as an assistant dean. Having studied piano at the Aspen Music Festival and School, Rice’s initial major was piano. Realizing, however, her talent level would not reach professional status, she sought out an alternative major. Under the tutorage of Josef Korbel, she studied international politics where an interest in the Soviet Union and international relations was ignited. (Note – Josef Korbel is the father of Madeleine Albright – the first female US Secretary of State.)

In 1974, Condoleezza earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Denver. That same year, she was inducted into the honor society, Phi Beta Kappa. She was also a member of the Gamma Delta chapter of Alpha Chi Omega. This was followed by a master’s at Notre Dame University in 1975 and her PhD in 1981.

Following receipt of her master’s degree, Rice went to work for the State Department in 1977 during the Carter administration. While an intern with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, she studied Russian at Moscow State University in 1979, then interned with the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California.

Rice’s early political affiliations were with the Democratic Party. This lasted until 1982, when she joined the GOP. Her reason for becoming a Republican was twofold: 1) she disagreed with President Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy and 2) because of the influence of her father, who was Republican. At the 2000 Republican National Convention, Rice stated, "My father joined our party because the Democrats in Jim Crow Alabama of 1952 would not register him to vote. The Republicans did."

After receiving her Ph.D. in 1981 from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, 26-year-old Dr. Rice joined the faculty of Stanford University as a professor of political science. Her dissertation at DU focused on military policy and the politics of Czechoslovakia, then a communist state. At Stanford, she became not only the first woman, but also the first African-American, to serve as provost of the university, holding the post for six years, 1993-1999. She also served as the chief budget and academic officer during that time.

In the mid-1980s, Rice began working as international affairs fellow, attached to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C. Her performance during the 1985 meeting of arms control experts at Stanford drew the attention of Brent Scowcroft. Having served as National Security Advisor for President Gerald Ford, Scowcroft returned to the White House in 1989 after the election of George H. W. Bush where he resumed the post of National Security Adviser. Scowcroft invited Rice to be his Soviet expert on the United States National Security Council. President Bush was awestruck by Rice’s capability and began to rely heavily on her advice during his communications with Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. In 1989, she became a special assistant to President George H.W. Bush, serving as the director of Soviet and East European affairs with the National Security Council.

Not wishing to lose her tenure at Stanford, Rice returned prior to the two-year deadline in 1991. Upon her return, George P. Schultz, former Secretary of State for President Reagan from 1982-1989, included Rice in an intellectual “luncheon club” which met every few weeks to discuss foreign affairs. Now a board member of Chevron Corporation, Schultz recommended Rice for a seat on the board. At that time, Chevron was in pursuit of a $10 billion development project based in Kazakhstan. Rice’s prior service as a Soviet specialist had provided the opportunity for her to meet Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Following her efforts in Kazakhstan on behalf of Chevron, the company named a 129,000-ton supertanker the SS Condoleezza Rice.

Upon her return to Stanford in 1992, Rice joined the search committee to find a replacement for outgoing president, Donald Kennedy. Provost of the University of Chicago, Gerhard Casper was the committee’s ultimate recommendation. When Casper met Rice, his impression of her was such he appointed her in 1993 to be Stanford’s Provost, the university’s chief budget and academic officer. She also received tenure and became a full professor. The first female, first minority, and youngest Provost in Stanford’s history, Rice was also named a senior fellow of the Institute for International Studies, in addition to a senior fellow (by courtesy) of the Hoover Institution.

As Stanford's Provost, Rice’s responsibility was that of managing the university's multi-billion dollar budget. At the time she took office, Stanford’s budget was written in red ink, with a deficit of $20 million. At that time, Rice vowed the budget would be balanced within two years.

Stanford's deputy director of the Institute for International Studies, Coit Blacker, went on record as saying, “There was a sort of conventional wisdom that said it couldn't be done... that [the deficit] was structural, that we just had to live with it." Fast forward two years and Rice announced not only had the deficit been eliminated; the university now had a surplus in excess of $14.5 million – a record.

Casper later stated the university was "most fortunate in persuading someone of Professor Rice's exceptional talents and proven ability in critical situations to take on this task. Everything she has done, she has done well; I have every confidence that she will continue that record as provost.” Acknowledging Rice's unique character, Casper told the New Yorker in 2002 that it "would be disingenuous for me to say that the fact that she was a woman, the fact that she was black and the fact that she was young weren't in my mind."

Though her efforts at balancing Stanford’s budget won her loud accolades from the university, Rice also drew protests. As Provost, she chose to depart from the use of affirmative action in tenure decisions. She was also unsuccessful in her efforts to consolidate the university's ethnic community centers.

In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Rice to be national security advisor. She was the second woman and first black to hold the post. Following the resignation of Colin Powell in 2004, Bush tapped Rice to be the 66th Secretary of State. Bush’s appointment of Rice to the position made her the first female African-American Secretary of State, the second African American Secretary of State (after Colin Powell), and the second female Secretary of State (after Madeleine Albright).

Serving in this cabinet post from 2005 – 2009, Rice’s stated goal was to build and sustain democratic, well-governed states around the world, specifically in the Middle East. In an effort to accomplish that, Secretary Rice relocated a number of American diplomats to such places as Afghanistan, Angola and Iraq. She stipulated these diplomats must be fluent in two foreign languages. At the same time, Rice created a high-level position in an effort to de-fragment U.S. foreign aid.

Rice pioneered the policy of Transformational Diplomacy which was aimed at escalating the number of responsible democratic governments in the world, especially in the Greater Middle East. That policy, however, faced numerous challenges as Hamas took control over a significant majority of the Palestinian elections and influential countries, to include Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who maintained authoritarian systems with support from the United States. Rice logged more miles traveling than any previous Secretary of State. She also chaired the Millennium Challenge Corporation's board of directors.

On August 20, 2012, Condoleezza Rice joined South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore as they became the first female members of the prestigious Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament, located in Augusta, Georgia. When the club opened in 1933, it stipulated “men-only” membership and repeatedly refused to accept applications from women. A former competitive ice skater and lover of tennis, Rice developed an interest in the sport of golf during 2007 while she was on vacation with family members in Greenbrier, West Virginia. During an interview for Golf Digest, Rice stated, “I don’t like anything that’s ‘just an escape.’ To me, the best part of golf is that unlike my tennis game, I can actually get better. I’ve probably reached my plateau in tennis, but in golf, I have a lot of room for improvement. I really enjoy working on my game. I like practicing. I chart my rounds.”

Following her historic adventure in Georgia, Rice appeared at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida on August 29, 2012. Here she delivered a riveting speech during the convention’s second day in which she spurred positive media attention by saying, “I think my father thought I might be President of the United States. I think he would’ve been satisfied with Secretary of State. I’m a foreign policy person and to have a chance to serve my country as the nation’s chief diplomat at a time of peril and consequence, that was enough. I'll go back and be a happy Stanford faculty member," Rice said. "And, obviously, I'll do what I can to help this ticket. But my life is in Palo Alto. My future is with my students at Stanford and in public service on issues that I care about like education reform." By her statement, she was making it known her future intentions were to be an educator, not a politician.

On March 19, 2013, it was announced that Rice is writing a book to be published in 2015 by Henry Holt & Company.

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