HIGH POINT, N.C., May 7, 2016 – Unwavering optimism.
For Dr. Condoleezza Rice, that’s been the foundation of her family’s legacy. It’s an obligation for those who’ve had the opportunity to receive an education, and it’s the reason that a black girl from Alabama could go on to become the 66th Secretary of State of the United States, she told High Point University’s graduating Class of 2016 today.
“Too often cynicism can be the fellow traveler of learning, and I know why,” Rice said, addressing 10,000 people on the Roberts Hall lawn. “History is full of much cruelty and suffering and darkness. It can be hard sometimes to believe that there’s a brighter future. But for all of our failings as human beings, for all of our current problems, more people today enjoy lives of opportunities than in all of human history.
“This progress has been the concerted effort not of cynics,” she said, “but of visionaries and optimists and idealists who deal with the world as it is but who never stop working for the world as it should be.”
Those optimists reflect Rice’s own family as she shared experiences from her childhood, a world that seems almost incomprehensible for those in the Class of 2016. She grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, during the Civil Rights Era, and generations of her family endured hardships in the segregated South. Yet numerous family members earned degrees of higher education, including her grandfather, Rev. John Wesley Sr., her father, Rev. John Wesley Jr., and her aunt, Theresa Love, who held a Ph.D. in Victorian literature.
Because they remained optimistic they could receive an education despite challenges like poverty and segregation, her family was able to “change the pathway for the Rices for years to come.”
“Education is transformative,” she said. “It literally changes lives. That is why people for centuries have worked so hard to become educated. Education more than any other force can help to erase arbitrary divisions of race and class, arbitrary divisions of culture, and to unlock every person’s God-given potential.”
Rice spoke during a significant graduation for High Point University as it bestowed the first doctoral degrees in its history. Achieving doctoral-degree granting status has been part of a major transformation at High Point University in the last 10 years.
“This is an extraordinary institution for both higher learning and higher living – a place where we embrace a growth mindset and focus ourselves on faithful courage,” said Dr. Nido Qubein, HPU president. “We welcome you, Secretary Rice, and commend your dedication to the academy and those it serves. You’re an outstanding advocate for excellence in both American classrooms and American public service.”
Top highlights from Rice’s speech include:
- “It is your responsibility as educated people to help close the gaps of justice and opportunity, and yes, the gaps of freedom that still exist beyond our shores as well as within them.”
- “When you find your passion, it’s yours. Not what someone else thinks it should be. There’s no earthly reason that a black girl from Birmingham, Alabama should be a Soviet specialist. But that’s what I wanted to be. Don’t let anyone else define your passion for you because of your gender or the color of your skin.”
- “There was a day in my own lifetime when the hope of liberty and justice for all seemed impossible. But because individuals kept faith with the ideal of equality, we see a different America today where ‘we the people’ is more inclusive.”
- “When you encounter those who are less fortunate, you cannot possibly give way to grievance [by asking] ‘Why do I not have?’ Or its twin brother, entitlement – ‘Why don’t they give me?’ Instead, you will ask, ‘Why have I been given so much?’ And from that spirit, you will join the legions of optimists who are working toward a better human future.”
- “Because of all that my grandfather and my many other ancestors did, even enduring poverty and segregation and second-class citizenship, they understood that education was a privilege, not a right. And that it therefore conferred certain obligations.”
- “It’s possible today to live in an echo chamber that serves only to reinforce your own high opinion of yourself and what you think. That is a temptation that educated people must reject. There is nothing wrong with holding an opinion and holding it strongly. But at times when you are sure that you’re absolutely right, go and find somebody who disagrees. Don’t allow yourself the easy course of the constant amen to everything that you say.”
- “As an educated person, you have an opportunity to spend your life doing what you love to do. And you should never forget that many people don’t have that opportunity. As you work to find your passion, beware. If you haven’t found it yet, it might just find you.”
- “So as you leave, let me ask you to remember a few things. Be passionate about what you choose to do in life. Use your power of reason. Cultivate humility. Remain optimistic and always try to serve others as well as the goals of freedom and peace and justice. Capture this moment forever in your mind’s eye.”
- “Education, more than any other force, can help to erase arbitrary divisions of race and class, arbitrary divisions of culture, and to unlock every person’s God-given potential.”
Other unique HPU Commencement highlights:
- As is tradition at HPU, a bald eagle soared over the graduates at the end of the ceremony to symbolize the ideals of free enterprise, independence and the ability to pursue new opportunities in America.
- In honor of Mother’s Day tomorrow, HPU graduates received a blanket after the ceremony to give to their mothers.
- Numerous Class of 2016 graduates are headed to careers at Fortune 500 companies, financial firms, nonprofit organizations and businesses across the nation, while others have been accepted into prestigious law, medical and graduate school programs.
About Condoleezza Rice:
From January 2005-2009, Rice served as the 66th Secretary of State of the United States, the second woman and first African American woman to hold the post. Rice also served as President George W. Bush’s assistant to the President for national security affairs (National Security Advisor) from January 2001-2005, the first woman to hold the position.
As Secretary of State, Rice championed the idea of “Transformational Diplomacy,” which expanded the number of diplomatic governments throughout the world. She also helped successfully negotiate several agreements in the Middle East. One of Rice’s most successful negotiations was the signing of the U.S.-India Agreement for Cooperation Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy (123 Agreement), which would allow civil nuclear trade between the two countries. Rice has appeared four times on Time Magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people. She currently serves as a professor at Stanford University, where she previously served as a provost from 1993 to 1999 and has been a member of the faculty since 1981.
Further Biographical Details:
Rice was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and earned her bachelor’s degree in political science, cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from the University of Denver; her master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame; and her Doctor of Philosophy degree from the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver.
In 1991, Rice cofounded the Center for a New Generation (CNG), an innovative, after-school academic enrichment program for students in East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park, California. CNG later merged with the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula (an affiliate club of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America). CNG has since expanded to local BGCA chapters in Birmingham, Atlanta and Dallas. She remains an active proponent of an extended learning day through after school programs.
Since 2009, Rice has served as a founding partner at RiceHadleyGates LLC, an international strategic consulting firm based in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. The firm works with senior executives of major companies to implement strategic plans and expand in emerging markets. Other partners include former National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley and former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.
Rice currently serves on the board of Dropbox, an online-storage technology company; C3, an energy software company; and Makena Capital, a private endowment firm. In addition, she is a member of the boards of the George W. Bush Institute, the Commonwealth Club, the Aspen Institute, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Previously, Rice served on various additional boards, including KiOR, Inc.; the Chevron Corporation; the Charles Schwab Corporation; the Transamerica Corporation; the Hewlett-Packard Company; the University of Notre Dame; the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; and the San Francisco Symphony Board of Governors.
She has authored and coauthored numerous books, including two best-sellers.
In 2013, Rice was appointed to the College Football Playoff Committee (CFPC), formerly the Bowl Championship Series (BCS).