Condoleezza Rice urges GSU students to follow their passion

Morris News Service
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to more than 5,000 at Georgia Southern University yesterday.

STATESBORO - Although she's been out of the position for nearly a year, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sounded every bit the foreign diplomat Tuesday as she addressed a crowd of nearly 5,000 students, staff and community members at Georgia Southern University.

Her responses to questions about the state of affairs in Afghanistan showed her passion for the United States to remain a steward and a good neighbor to countries new to democracy.

"It's our job to protect and preserve freedom. ... What we've learned from 9/11 is that it's not the powerful states we should be concerned about, it's the failed states."

She argued that pulling out of Afghanistan too soon could invite more problems. As a student of history she was quick to point out that the devastation left after civil unrest was fertile ground to grow the Taliban and al-Qaida.

But Rice had messages closer to home as well.

As a black female growing up in the segregated South, she learned to put those obstacles to use.

"Our teachers told us we had to be twice as good and that racism is someone else's problem," she responded to a question from a young, black woman who asked about setbacks and challenges.

"It's not a bad thing to be a little better, to prepare a little better to push yourself to be the best you can."

The country is ready for change, she added.

"If Hillary Clinton finishes her full term, we'll have gone 16 years where there hasn't been a white man as secretary of state."

But politics is politics and the current controversy of President Obama didn't surprise her.

"Being president is the toughest job there is," she said. "It's not for the faint of heart."

She didn't let on if she was considering a run at the top office herself, but did say that the microscope placed on public figures today is probably keeping a lot of good people from seeking office.

"We don't allow public figures private space," she said. "Every detail of their lives is fair game."

As an educator, Rice urged the students to seek out their passion and not to be afraid to change their goals.

She had entered college with plans to become a concert pianist, but soon discovered that although she was talented, there were many who made her virtuosity seem mediocre.

"I realized that I'd be teaching piano lessons or playing at a piano bar," she said. "I called my parents and told them I was changing my major."

As chance would have it, she enrolled in a Russian studies class and immediately found her calling - foreign policy.

When asked about perhaps the most important day of her professional life - Sept. 11, 2001 - Rice recalled the day with clarity and conviction.

"I got the news that a plane had struck the World Trade Center and thought 'What a terrible accident,'" Rice said.

Then when she was told another plane had hit, she immediately knew it was a terrorist attack. And when the third plane struck the Pentagon, she said the new realization was that the enemy was bent on bringing down this nation.

"My first thought was 'we have to protect our homeland,'" said Rice.

And that's perhaps one of the most important aspects of leadership, she said.

Facing tough challenges and standing firm on your beliefs are what make true leaders.

"Integrity is a big part of leadership and when you're thrown off course by shifting winds you have to stick to your core," she told the audience. "If you're not true to yourself or your people, you won't be a good or successful leader for long."

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