Condoleezza Rice (born 1954) is a classic over-achiever. Growing up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, Rice refused to let the boundaries set by society limit her. She has become a close adviser to President George W. Bush, involved in decisions that shape the future of the United States of America.
Rice Groomed For Success
Condoleezza Rice was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on November 14, 1954. Her father, John Wesley Rice, was a school guidance counselor during the week and a Presbyterian minister on the weekends. Her mother, Angelena, was a schoolteacher. The family lived in a middle-class, black community called Titusville, where education was a high priority for children who were expected to succeed regardless of any prejudices or boundaries.
John and Angelena Rice tried to give everything possible to their young daughter, providing intangible support by developing her sense of pride, faith, and responsibility. "They wanted the world," Connie Rice (a second cousin to Rice) said in a biography by Antonia Felix entitled Condi: The Condoleezza Rice Story. "They wanted Rice to be free of any kind of shackles, mentally or physically, and they wanted her to own the world. And to give a child that kind of entitlement, you have to love her to death and make her believe that she can fly." John Rice coached football and taught his daughter everything he could about tactics and strategy. Rice grew to love the game and would follow football wherever she went.
Terror in Birmingham
In the early 1960s, the civil rights movement landed in Birmingham. Schoolchildren were encouraged to participate in marches and other demonstrations. The Rice family did not join in but sometimes went down to watch history unfold. "My father was not a march-in-the street preacher," Rice said in the biography. "He saw no reason to put children at risk. He would never put his own child at risk." Unfortunately, sometimes the police would use fire hoses to spray the children, or dogs would chase the children. Some of the young adults arrested were John Rice's students. Television cameras caught it all on tape for the nation to see.
Events that were stirring the emotions of the nation were occurring right in Birmingham when Rice was only eight years old. Vigilantes bombed the home of a family friend, Arthur Shores, twice in the fall of 1963. On September 15, 1963, the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed, killing four young girls attending Sunday school. One of the girls, Denise Nair, was Rice's friend from school. Rice had heard the explosion and felt the shudder of the blast. She remembers her father and the other men from the neighborhood organizing to patrol the streets at night with shotguns. She was growing up with terrorism. The Rice family watched on television when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964. Not long after, the family went to dinner at a previously all-white restaurant in Birmingham.
Rice was a bright student and skipped both first and seventh grade. Her parents encouraged her to do well in everything she tried, and they provided lessons in piano, ballet, violin, French, and skating, and instruction in dress, grooming, and manners. In 1965, she was the first black student to attend music classes at Birmingham Southern Conservatory of Music.
When Rice was 11 years old, her father accepted a position in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as a college administrator. Two years after that, he accepted a position as vice chancellor at the University of Denver in Colorado. For the first time, Rice attended integrated school at St. Mary's Academy, a private Catholic school. During her first year, a school counselor advised her that she was not college material, despite her excellent grades and musical and athletic accomplishments. "Condi was stunned, but her parents— immune to talk of limitation or failure—didn't flinch," stated Felix in the biography. "They assured her that the assessment was wrong and that she should just ignore it."
Became Interested in Politics
At age 15, Rice graduated from high school and started attending the University of Denver, hoping to become a concert pianist. She won a young artist's competition and was invited to play Mozart's Piano Concerto in D Minor with the Denver Symphony Orchestra. Although she was a talented performer, she knew that the competition for professional performers was stiff. Partway through college, she decided she would never become a concert pianist. She took a course called "Introduction to International Politics." Her professor, Dr. Josef Korbel, a Soviet specialist and the father of Madeleine Albright (who later became secretary of state under President Bill Clinton), inspired her. She changed her major to political science. Rice was an avid student, and in 1974, she earned her bachelor's degree in political science (cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa) at age 19. She was awarded the Political Science Honors Award for "outstanding accomplishment and promise in the field of political science." She went on to get her Master's degree in government and international studies at Notre Dame University in just one year. She returned to Denver, unsure of what to do next.
"I thought I had a job as executive assistant to a vice president of Honeywell," she told Nicholas Lemann in the New Yorker. "Before I could go to work, they reorganized, and I lost the job." She taught piano lessons and applied to law school. Then, when she was down at the university, Dr. Korbel recommended that she take some classes. By 1981, she had received her Ph.D. in international studies from the University of Denver.
She was awarded a fellowship at Stanford's Center for International Security and Arms Control. It was the first time the Center had ever admitted a woman. The fellowship was supposed to be for one year, but Rice made a big impression and was offered a job as an assistant professor of political science at Stanford University, which she accepted. In her classes, Rice often used football analogies in her lectures, comparing war to football. Her classes were popular and attracted many athletes.
In 1984, Rice attended a faculty seminar where Brent Scowcroft, then head of President Reagan's Commission of Strategic Forces, spoke on arms control. During the dinner following the seminar, Rice asked Scowcroft some challenging questions. Scowcroft was impressed. "I thought, This is somebody I need to get to know. It's an intimidating subject. Here's this young girl, and she's not at all intimidated," he told the New Yorker 's Lemann. Scowcroft began arranging for her to attend seminars and conferences. In 1986, she was appointed as the special assistant to the Director-Joint Chiefs of Staff position at the Pentagon through a Council on Foreign Relations Fellowship. Then, in 1989, when Scowcroft became National Security Advisor, he appointed Rice to the National Security Council as the chief authority on the Soviet Union. She was involved in forming the American reaction to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, and the demise of what was then considered the Soviet Union.
During this time period, Rice had been doing a lot of writing. In 1984, she published Uncertain Allegiance: The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army 1948-1963. She also wrote The Gorbachev Era with Alexander Dallin in 1986. Rice joined the Board of Directors of the Stanford Mid-Peninsula Urban Coalition in 1986. The organization provided vocational and academic assistance to minority students at high risk of dropping out of high school.
Rice returned to Stanford in 1991. She was appointed to the board of directors of Chevron. She apparently served them well, as they named a tanker after her in 1993, and she went to Rio de Janeiro to christen it. She also served on the boards for Trans America Corporation and Hewlett Packard.
Rice Chosen as Provost
During meetings to help select a new president for Stanford, Rice impressed the man who was given the job, Gerhard Casper. He appointed her to the number-two position of provost. She entered the position during a difficult time. There were large deficits in the budget and cuts were necessary. Rice took on the job with her usual efficiency. Forbes reported, "In her first year, Rice, 39, balanced the university's $410 million unrestricted budget without dipping into reserves for the first time in six years." When she stepped down, six years later, the $40 million deficit had become a surplus.
In 1995, she and Philip Zelikow co-authored, Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft. The book was awarded the Akira Iriye International History Book Award for 1994-1995.
Rice and President George W. Bush
In July of 1999, she took a leave of absence from her provost position to become the foreign policy advisor for Texas Governor George W. Bush's presidential campaign. When Bush won the election, he tapped Rice for the position of National Security Advisor. As National Security Adviser, Rice has to balance some strong personalities and viewpoints and pull all of the information together for the president. Evan Thomas of Newsweek reported, "By law, the secretary of state is the president's chief foreign-policy advisor; the national security adviser runs no department and commands no troops. But he or she (Rice was the first-ever woman to get the job) is usually the first to see the president in the morning and the last at night."
On September 11, 2001, Rice immediately recognized the planes striking the World Trade Center as a terrorist attack. She called a meeting of the National Security Council. When a plane hit the Pentagon, they were ordered to evacuate the White House and take shelter in an underground bunker. She made calls throughout the day to heads of state throughout the world, assuring them that the United States government was up and running. She was suddenly thrust into the spotlight, as the Bush administration evaluated their next steps.
Rice works very hard not to reveal her own views, but instead to gather the information provided and present it to the president. Newsweek 's Thomas stated, "She has often said that she is 'determined to leave this town' without anyone outside Bush's tight inner circle ever figuring out where she stands on major issues. She claims that she 'rarely' tells the president her private opinions, and if she does, she never shares her advice to the president, not even with her closest aides."
Rice is very dedicated to her physical fitness and gets up at 5 a.m. to exercise. She has never married, has no brothers or sisters, and her parents have passed away. Her job is the main focus in her life, and she regularly works 15-16 hour days. She relaxes by playing the piano. She enjoys shopping, and Newsweek 's Thomas reported that Saks Fifth
Avenue has been known to open up for her after hours. Her aides affectionately refer to her as the "Warrior Princess," according to Thomas. Her faith is strong, and she prays every night and sometimes during the day as well. She is passionate about football and often states that she would someday like to become the commissioner of the National Football League.
Newsweek 's Thomas summed it up when he stated in an article on September 9, 2002, "At an early age, she drove right through the boundaries of race and chased excellence and accomplishment all the way to the northwest corner office of the West Wing."
Felix, Antonia, Condi: The Condoleezza Rice Story, Newmarket Press, 2002.
Forbes, October 24, 1994.
National Review, August 30, 1999.
Newsweek, September 9, 2002; December 16, 2002.
New Yorker, October 14, 2002.
"Biography of Dr. Condoleezza Rice: National Security Advisor," The White House, http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/ricebio.html (January 15, 2003).
"Condoleezza Rice: U.S. national security adviser," CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com (January 15, 2003).