Condoleezza Rice released a new book October 12 called "Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family and gave a talk at the Ronald Reagan Library this past Tuesday. It was my second Presidential Library, after seeing the JFK Library.
While many may know Dr. Rice as the first woman to serve as National Security Advisor, the second woman to serve as Secretary of State and a Professor at Stanford, I wanted to get a sense of her as a person. I wanted to see with my own eyes, hear with my own ears and feel with my instincts what she was like. Between spin doctors, news clips and agendas, I have become almost numb to news media, as it seems truth is no longer presented in an objective way that would allow the people to decide for themselves. We are fed someone's version of something so we will be swayed in one direction or another. That is why I feel inspired at the chance to hear a public figure speak, without any bells, whistles or cameras.
Dr. Rice was one of the highest ranking woman in our country. She overcame both gender and race barriers. I wanted to hear what she had to say. What struck me most was the motto of both her parents and the small black community near Birmingham, Alabama, where she was raised. The motto for all the black families was "no victims, no excuses." She and her fellow students were raised without a chip on the shoulder but instead with a staunch and reinforced belief that even if you couldn't have a sandwich at the local segregated store, personal effort and determination could overcome environmental circumstances. They may have been living with segregation daily, but hard work and effort could lead to becoming President of the United States. The "no victims, no excuses" motto, she stated, was extremely important because if one felt like a victim, one felt "aggrieved" or wronged, and "the twin to aggrieved is entitlement." So, if I'm being put upon and wronged, you or the world owe me.
Standing in line for almost two hours for a good seat was worth that insight. I felt awestruck when Dr. Rice gently escorted an 89-year-old Nancy Reagan into the auditorium; I was in the presence of history. When asked what she learned from her parents that carried and sustained her, Dr. Rice said perseverance, optimism and self-reliance. A sweet story from childhood was about her at age three with a tiny toy piano that was so short that she could only play "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." She grew tired of the limitations and just before age four asked her parents for a piano. They told her that when she could play "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" perfectly, she would get a piano. When her parents left for work that day, she sat there, less than four years old, and practiced that song all day long. When they walked in at the end of the day, she played it for them perfectly and within a week, they had rented a piano for her. She said that flying into war-torn, dangerous areas as Secretary of State, her parents' reaffirming words that "your thoughts will carry you" always kept her feeling safe and sure. Even with her mother being diagnosed with breast cancer when Condoleeza was 15, Dr. Rice kept her focus and optimism. She spoke about the power that the U.S. wields but how important it is to couple power with principles to have its full effect.
Condaleeza graciously signed books for over 800 calm and respectful attendees. She had the glow and radiance about her of a woman who loves her life. Her dedication to education is so needed. One audience member asked what Dr. Rice would advise a 14-year-old girl. Dr. Rice recommended finding something the girl loves to do and to develop skills at it, even when some skills don't come easily. She related her own desire to be a concert pianist and the realization that, even though she practiced and was dedicated, she was not skilled enough to continue that path. Politics was her second love. I was also surprised to learn that her father, expecting a boy, had picked out the name John for her and taught her to love football, a passion she still carries.
I like her. I really enjoyed her as a person. She came across as a positive, insightful, warm, intelligent, energetic, compassionate and gracious woman who also has integrity. She is exactly the type of person I enjoy having as a friend.
"No victims, no excuses" is a motto that the United States might want to implement, considering the amazing list of black men and women who were raised in Dr. Rice's small town, where Civil Rights odds were against them. They had every right to be angry and discouraged, yet they held to a different and higher vision for themselves and their youth, a vision of optimism, accountability, dignity, respect and possibility. The word that comes to mind is "faith" -- finding the strength daily to forge forward in the face of adversity to move towards a yet unrealized goal. Thank you, Dr. Rice, for writing a book about character and family, an all-American topic no matter how someone votes.