When we began our educations at Sam Houston State University, we knew we’d get a great education, numerous service opportunities, and the chance to work with some top-level faculty. What we didn’t know is we’d have the chance to use those resources over a lunch and interview with Condoleezza Rice.
But that’s exactly what we did last week when the Junior Fellows took a group of members, SHSU alumni, and community leaders to a World Affairs Council luncheon with the former Secretary of State.
Dr. Rice, who grew up in segregated Alabama in the 1950s, has a BA, MA, and Ph.D. in political science. She has also served as National Security Advisor, Secretary of State, and Provost and Professor at Stanford University. In short, Dr. Rice has a lot of education and experience to draw on when discussing the world.
Secretary Rice recently shared her education and experience with a large group hosted by the World Affairs Council of Houston. During her talk, Secretary Rice highlighted three dramatic events that have shaped our country and its population: the 9-11 terrorist attacks; the 2008 economic meltdown; and the “Arab Spring,” the recent revolutions in Arab countries. Dr. Rice noted that amidst these swirling events some people wondered whether the United States could maintain its place in the world as a dominant power while maintaining its values. Her response was emphatic. “There is no way we can maintain our place in the world,” she noted, “without maintaining our values.”
In particular, Dr. Rice urged the audience to hold dear the love of “free people” and “free markets,” qualities that impart both unity and optimism to Americans. These values, she continued, do not—and should not—discriminate along racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic boundaries. What’s important, she repeated, “was not where you come from, but where you’re going.” For an organization whose membership consists of a majority of first-generation college students, that’s quite an inspiring message.
Dr. Rice’s major theme was the importance of service. When one of the Junior Fellows asked her which of her public positions—Provost, National Security Advisor, Secretary of State, Professor—was most rewarding, she responded that “making a difference” in people’s lives was the “most rewarding” thing she had done, irrespective of her specific job. For students in a public-service related organization, that’s another inspirational message.
Considering Secretary Rice’s desire to make a difference, we asked her whether she would consider joining the Romney ticket as Vice Presidential candidate. “Thanks, but no thanks,” she responded, noting that she “loves policy, but hates politics.”
Fortunately, Dr. Rice’s love of policy is broad and enlightened. Knowing she began her college career—at the age of 16—as a music major, we asked her what role she thought the fine arts had in public education. “Arts aren’t extra-curricular, they are critical,” she said. “They give young people the chance to perform and build confidence.” For an organization that regularly volunteers at the Wynne Home Arts Center and other art-friendly venues, it was another inspirational message.
Although our time with Dr. Rice wasn’t part of our official curriculum at SHSU, her career and her message both evoke our University’s motto, “The Measure of a Life is its Service.” It’s a worthy message, one we are fortunate to have regularly reinforced inside and outside the classroom by University faculty, local community leaders, and even the former Secretary of State.