Monday, November 17, 2014

Here's to 60 Years—#66—Condeleeza Rice

I have taught at St. Ignatius College Prep for the past 12 years. In that time there have been great days, hard days, crazy days and tragic ones. Days when I have felt defeated by a secular culture and "affluenza" and days when I can't believe I get paid to do what I do. One of those days was Friday, October 10, when the 66th Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice spoke to our student body at the request of her God-son, who is also my student. He is a student I respect, admire and cherish. His peers do too. He introduced "Condi" to our student body, which set the context for a day I will never forget. 
As an avid football fan, it was quite appropriate that the SI football team presented the 66th Secretary of State with this jersey
My student, standing at the podium in front of 1500 of his peers (NOT an easy task when you are 17) said, "Dr. Rice was an accomplished ice skater, tennis player and today is an avid golfer As many people know she is one of two women who are members at Augusta National. She is a Cleveland Browns fan and sits on the committee to determine the ranking for the NCAA football playoffs. She is the author of two books and her father was a Presbyterian minister." 

She began her address by informing students why the type of education they are getting is so valuable. Why: It combines "Faith and Reason." She said, "God the creator gave us a mind and intended for us to use it. A school like SI aims to sharpen the mind but the heart as well. This goal is reflected in scripture which calls us to Love the Lord your God with your mind, heart, and soul. That is so important. What I will share with you today are a few thoughts I have collected on how to live a fulfilling life."
A great day in the history of SI.
Dr. Rice thanked her Godson for not revealing to the audience that she had been at Stanford University for 30 years now. She turned 60 on Friday, November 14, 2014, a milestone that family and friends celebrated together. This is a synopsis of what she shared.

1. Find your passion
Find your passion and your life will find a way of ordering itself...things will fall into place when you do. But please know it may find you!

For example, I learned music before I could read. I play piano and was a music major in college. One summer, I had the opportunity to play in the Aspen Music Festival. It was there that I realized, as talented as I may be (or thought I was) I was not nearly as skilled or talented as others were. I knew that a career in music would be very difficult.

People would tell me I should pursue x or y
I changed my major to English, but that didn't suit me. Fortunately, I took a class in International Politics by Josef Korbel, Madeline Albright's father. I fell in love with the curriculum and it led to my future studies. Why would a Black girl from Alabama be interested in Soviet politics? Your passions are as unique as you are. Don't let anyone determine what your passion is or ought to be.

Before I was Secretary of State, I was the national security advisor for George H. W. Bush. The concert celloist, Yo- Yo Ma called me to play piano with him on the stage at the Kennedy Center for the Arts. He wasn't calling me because I had made a name for myself in music. No, he was calling me because I had pursued my passion and that opened other doors for me. Again, follow you passion and things will fall into place when you do.
Now in the National Portrait Gallery...
2. Do Something Really Hard
Don't be afraid to work hard and challenge yourself. If you're good at Math or science, make a point of stretching yourself in literature or history. Don't give up. You'll find the process of stretching yourself is more fulfilling than simply undertaking what's easy.

3. Reach out for mentors and role models
Never underestimate the power of a good mentor. In college you will have professors—men and women—you look up to an admire. These folks have succeeded in their field and you can learn so much from them. But don't ask them to be your mentor. Read what they wrote and ask them about their ideas. We college professors have egos, it's ok to play to that. And if you do, you'll see a bond may form. After all, it's natural to take an interest in someone who is interested in you! 

Please know, your mentor does not need to look like you. If I was looking for one who did, I would still be looking. A person becomes a mentor because they care. You share a common passion and that lays the groundwork for the relationship.

4. Learn as much as you can about other cultures and study another language.
We often discuss how similar we are, but we are also very different. When you travel to new places you learn just how truly diverse this world is. When you can speak another language, doors open up for you, but so does your mind.

I attended this game back in 2007. My only regret is that she didn't mention in her talk that her mother taught the "Say Hey" Kid when he was in high school (near Birmingham, AL)
5. Keep Physically Fit
You must make this a priority. When I was Secretary of State, I would wake up at 4:30 a.m. so I could workout. I would much rather play sports as my way of staying fit, but the demands of life can make that difficult. Regardless, a commitment to eating right, staying active and self-care pays the best dividends possible; the return is a better, more energetic you.

6. Give Back
Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in what you don't have or what you are missing out on. It's very tempting to wonder when you are in this place "Why don't I have x?" But when you serve others it's impossible not to reframe the question. When you give back you suddenly realize "Why do I have so much?" In life we don't have control over the circumstances we confront, but we do have control over our response. Giving back and serving others puts much more of life into perspective. Christ himself was a servant leader. Who are you not to be?

Condi added some ideas on facing racism and how she was raised "if you look for it, you'll find it." Her parents sounded to me like true heroes. "They told me I would have to work twice as hard because of the color of my skin. They said there are things the world will me I can not due but they also told me I could be President of the United States." As the first female African-American Secretary of State, they weren't too far off the mark.

She answered questions from seniors enrolled in a US Government class and she was awarded a St. Ignatius football jersey with the number 66 on the back. She thanked my student and his brother as well as the Principal and President for welcoming her to our school. 
Two ND Grads ;-)
I joked with my students that after hearing her speak, I wanted to do less with my life. Ha! Quite the contrary. Her words struck a chord because of their simple truth. This is a woman who has followed her passion and it has led her to places unforeseen. She has given her life in public service and in the giving has received even more. She is multi-talented, yet she is multi-disciplined. She came to our school because her Godsons asked her to and she cares about them. Her 60-years have been packed with a lot of life and a lot of love. Here's to many more.  

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