Condoleezza Rice on Education & Democracy
The University of Mobile is educating the optimistic leaders of the future, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at the 7th annual University of Mobile Leadership Banquet on Nov. 10.
It is an education based on faith and reason that is transformative as young leaders work for a world not as it is, but as it should be.
"Whenever we're pessimistic or down a little bit about whether or not it's possible to get to the world as it should be, while living as it is, I would just suggest that we think about the many, many times when the impossible seems inevitable in retrospect," Rice said.
She spoke about the transformative power of education and democracy to an audience of about 900 at the gala event in downtown Mobile at the Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center. Students from the Center for Performing Arts entertained the audience, which included World War II veterans from Honor Flight South Alabama; community, faith and business leaders; alumni; donors; and faculty, staff and students.
The annual banquet supports the university's scholarship fund. It provides the money the university uses to offer institutional scholarships - those funded each year by the university and not through specific ongoing endowments, grants or loans. Past speakers have included former President George W. Bush, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Georgia Governor Zell Miller, and New York Times best-selling author Andy Andrews.
UMobile Developing Servant Leaders
Rice said education is the great equalizer, and the University of Mobile is developing servant leaders who can be the optimistic leaders of the future.
"That's what places like this are in the business of doing - transforming lives. Not just giving people a way to get a job, but giving people whole new horizons of who they might be and what they might do. Here at the University of Mobile, and other colleges of faith, (students) are taught to make that transforming leap through both faith and reason, that faith and reason are not enemies of one another. That, indeed, we are called to love the Lord God with our hearts and our minds, by Scripture," she said.
Rice added, "Because the students here are taught to bring faith and reason together, they have a firm foundation not just of knowledge but of how to use that knowledge in a way that will advance the human condition. That is why the work that is done to make them servant leaders is also so important."
Rice said the nation is going through difficult times, but she is encouraged because young people at the University of Mobile and across the nation are understanding that they should be devoted to something bigger than themselves.
"Our job is to tell them that it's alright to want to think of and work for a world not as it is, but a world as it should be," she said.
"If you are educating young people in faith and reason, educating them in servant leadership, educating them in the transforming power that that brings, then you are also educating the optimists of the future. The Lord knows we need optimism," she said.
Witnessing Extraordinary Events
Rice spoke about the challenges facing the nation and the world.
"We are witnessing extraordinary events," she said. "9/11 changed our concept of security. The global financial and economic crisis changed our concept of prosperity. But there is no more compelling change than what we are seeing in the streets of the Middle East, as men and women demonstrate once again that democracy, the desire to be free, is indeed a universal value. That men and women everywhere desire to be able to say what they think, to worship as they please, to be able to educate their girls and their boys, to be free from the knock of secret police at night, and to have the dignity that comes with having those who would govern you have to ask for your consent."
Rice said the hard work of democracy is just beginning in the Middle East.
"Democracy is the hard work of enshrining freedom in a set of institutions that can protect it," she said. A stable democracy requires that there by no tyranny by the majority, that the strong will not exploit the weak.
"Democracy is only as strong as its weakest link. That is where people like you - places like this university - come in. In strong democracies, it isn't the government that really holds the people together. It is, instead, civil society, a communitarian spirit, an understanding that the rights of the individual are critical to freedom and democracy," she said.
Compassion of America
Rice said Americans are perhaps the most individualistic people of the world, yet also the most philanthropic and compassionate.
"Nothing of real value in this country, whether universities or hospitals, can really exist without that philanthropic spirit," she said, adding that Americans have a responsibility not only to be strong, but to be compassionate and help those who are weaker.
Our nation's compassion comes from many sources, she said.
"It comes, perhaps first and foremost, from what I have called our great national myth. That myth is that you can come from humble circumstances and do great things. It doesn't matter where you came from; it matters where you're going. Because we believe that, because we understand that you are not trapped in your circumstances, (the U.S.A.) has been a place to which people have come from all over the world to be part of that experience."
There is another source of the nation's compassion, and that is America's great faith traditions, Rice said.
"I am a Christian, and in my tradition, in our tradition, every individual is worthy. If you are a child of God, then it doesn't matter whether you are rich or if you were born on the right or wring side of the tracks, you are worthy. Since every human life is worthy, every human life is also worthy of compassion - not by the state, but by the citizens who make up that communitarian spirit within our country," she said.
Education is Transforming
Rice spoke of the transformative role education had in her family's life. She told of her paternal grandfather, John Wesley Rice Sr., a sharecropper's son in Eutaw, AL.
"When he was a young man of 19 or 20 years old, he decided he was going to get 'book learning.' He asked where a colored man could go to college and they responded 'Stillman College,' about 30 miles away. He saved up his cotton and went to college. After the first year, it was used up. To pay for his second year, he asked how the other young men were paying.
"He was told, 'They have what's called a scholarship. If you wanted to be a Presbyterian minister, then you could have a scholarship, too.' Granddaddy Rice said, 'That's exactly what I had in mind,' and my family has been college educated and Presbyterian ever since," Rice said as the audience laughed.
Rice said her grandfather was on to something.
"He knew that education was going to transform him into somebody that he had never been. He was not going to transform himself alone, but generations after him. Indeed he did - his son, my father, became a teacher and minister. His daughter would become a Victorian scholar. Our family set sail for heights that john Wesley Rice Sr. would never have foreseen, but he knew that education would be transforming for him."
America Must Lead
Rice said the world has been shocked, is chaotic, and cries out for leadership.
"Someone will lead. I believe, very strongly, that it had better be the United States of America that does...it is absolutely critical that this country which is, after all, the most compassionate, the most generous, and the freest on the face of the earth, will also be the most powerful. I firmly believe that, once again, we will make the impossible seem inevitable in retrospect," she said.
Rice thanked the audience for supporting the University of Mobile and working on behalf of students who will one day change the world.
"There is nothing like the opportunity to shape young minds, and you do it in the best possible way, by teaching them, by educating them, by giving power to them to exist and to work in a community of faith and reason.
"One day, they will show you that they will not accept the world as it is. And having done that, they will remake the world as it should be," she said.