A Transforming Power

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 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.

A Testament of Hymns

Assistant Professor of Music Duane Plash regards his commission to create and perform a concert piano solo for Dr. Condoleezza Rice as "the highest honor imaginable."

The University of Mobile commissioned the piece, "A Testament of Hymns," as a gift for Rice following her speech at the 7th annual University of Mobile Leadership Banquet. UMobile President Dr. Mark Foley presented Rice with a framed copy of the original arrangement, as well as the musical score.

Plash said the arrangement includes three of Rice's favorite hymns: "I Need Thee Every Hour," "His Eye is on the Sparrow" and "In the Garden."

The piece is played "con dolcezza" - with sweetness - and a nod to Rice's first name.

Plash said arranging "A Testament of Hymns" for Rice, who is also a concert pianist, is "the honor of a lifetime." As Plash performed the piece on a grade piano on stage, Rice quietly sang the words to "In the Garden" as she listened.

Plash, a native of Mobile, has taught at the University of Mobile since 1993, and has been a full-time faculty member since 1999. He instructs sophomore and junior level theory classes, and private piano students.

He holds degrees from The Florida State University and Southwestern Seminary. After graduating from FSU, he served in the military three years, stationed in Germany. During this time he directed the 7th Army Soldiers Chorus, Heidelberg, performing concerts for military, German civilian, and international audiences alike.

He has worked in several churches along the Gulf Coast with a variety of responsibilities. At the present time he is organist/choir director at St. Paul's Lutheran (ELCA), where he has ministered since 2006. American Guild of English Handell Ringers Inc. and Lifeway Christian Resources have published numerous arrangements and original compositions of Plash.

Q&A with Dr. Condoleezza Rice

Former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice told University of Mobile student that her Christian faith is inseparable from the decisions she makes, and is the source of her optimism in the face of difficulties.

A deeply religious person whose father and grandfather were ministers, faith is "so integral to me that I don't even think of it as inseparable from anything that I do or any decisions that I make," Rice told more than 400 students gathered for a Q&A session on campus at Ram Hall prior to the 7th annual University of Mobile Leadership Banquet on Nov. 10, which supports the school's scholarship fund.

Students used social media including Twitter and Facebook to ask questions of Rice, a native of Birmingham, AL, who became the first black woman to serve as Secretary of State during the administration of President George W. Bush. Rice, now a political science professor at Stanford University, fielded questions ranging from her most embarrassing moments to the one word shw would want to be remembered by - "perseverance."

The freewheeling discussion was moderated by Campus Life Director Neal Ledbetter, in an event punctuated with laughter and applause.

Responding to a question about how faith factored into her role as Secretary of State, Rice said, "It's not that you say 'well, is this the right thing to do?' It's that you ask for guidance, are always aware that you have a higher power to which to appeal."

She said faith makes you recognize how very fortunate and blessed you are, and to care about people who are not as fortunate or blessed.

"The best part about being a person of faith is that I could be continually optimistic even in hard times. When you go through very difficult times, I don't know how people who can't appeal to that Holy Spirit get through those hard times. I know as (Abraham) Lincoln said, 'There are times when you have times where you have nowhere else to go than your knees.' That is very deeply ingrained in me."

She encouraged students to use their college years to discover what they are passionate about.

"You have one really important task while you're in college, and that is to find what you're passionate about - not what job or career or major you want, but what are you passionate about?"

She told students to keep searching until they discover their passion and "when you find your passion, don't let someone else define it for you by saying 'you ought to be (this) because of your race, color, background or circumstances."

Then, "once you have found something you love, put your heart and soul into working and being really, really good at i," she said.

Fina role model and mentor, she said. "Nobody does it completely on their own...Your role models don't have to look like you. If I had been waiting for a black female Soviet (expert) role model, I'd still be waiting," she said.

Below are excerpts from more questions and answers during the student session:

Q: How did growing up in Birmingham during the Civil Rights Movement shape your future as a leader?

A: Birmingham was the most segregated big city in America when I was a child. Daily life was completely segregated. I did not have white classmate friends until we moved to Denver when I was 12. I couldn't go to a restaurant or movie theatre, but I lived in a community where parents and teachers had extremely high expectations of the students. You were told you will have to be twice as good, as a matter of fact, not of debate. And there are no victims - don't think of yourself as one. You may not be able to control your circumstances, but you can control your response to circumstances.

Even though our horizons were limited, I couldn't have a hamburger at Woolworth's, but I could be President of the United States. So I became Secretary of State. Whatever circumstances you find yourself in, you do have to search for the opportunities, first and foremost through education.

Q: Looking back on your college experience, what advice would you give a college student trying to figure out what to do and trying to enter the workforce?

A: I hope you've found what you really love, then take it one step at a time. It is not necessary to know at 21 what you will do at 35. Don't try to plan out every step of your life...get your first job - not the first job that will lead you to do the next four jobs, but something that will give you a set of skills that you didn't acquire previously, then put your heart and sould into that first job. then see where that first job leads, then there will be a second job, and somewhere along the way you have established a career, but it's because you've taken it one step at a time...You want to demonstrate that you can carry out the responsibilities of that first job, then your level of responsibility will grow and grow and grow. Worry less about where you're going to end up and concentrate on getting those first couple of experiences that will get you on that good path.

Q: What was your most embarrassing moment with President George W. Bush?

A: I think with the President, it wasn't an embarrassing moment, but maybe the girls and women in the audience will understand better than the rest of you. We were going to a big dinner in Mexico City. I was wearing a black suit and black hose. (Then - Secretary of State Colin) Powell looked at me and said, "you have a run in your hose." Ladies, you know that feeling. The President said, "How long will it take you to change?" I responded, "Oh, maybe five minutes." So I went to change, came back and, there are the President and Powell standing with arms crossed, waiting on me. I said, "That's just what it means to have a female National Security Advisor, get used to it."

Q: Where do you see U.S. and Chinese relations in 20 years?

A: The best thing we can do is have a cooperative relationship with the Chinese, want them to be successful, and strengthen (our) relations with Asian allies. Since the real difference between the U.S. and China is our domestic system - the Chinese are not a democracy but authoritarian - (we need to strengthen alliances with) other countries that share our interest in democracy prospering in Asia as a way to make sure the rules of the game in Asia are built by democracy.

Q: What's playing on your iPod right now?

A: I have really eclectic and broad taste in music. I love Brahms and Mozart. I love very hard rock like Led Zeppelin and Cream. I also like rhythm and blues - I'm a big fan of the Gap Band and Earth, Wind and Fire. You will find all of that on my playlist.

Spring 2012 Features

A Transforming Power

Condoleezza Rice on Education & Democracy

Click Here

True Spin

Campus Ministries Bible Study

Click Here

Ready for Anything

University of Mobile School of Education

Click Here

Developing Potential

Twelve23 Education Alliance Equips Educators

Click Here

Dreams Fulfilled

Reflections of Founding President Dr. William K. Weaver Jr.

Click Here

When God Calls

Dean Parker, CEO
Callis Communications

Click Here

Investing In The Future:
A Family Legacy of Giving

Bedsole Family

Click Here

Inspired to Excellence

Fred Rettig, Owner
Rettig's Auto Body

Click Here

Unexpected Opportunities

Benjamin Finch '02

Click Here

Making A Difference

Erin Bethea '04

Click Here

Tony Nicholas '96

Owner, The Hungry Owl Eatery

Click Here

Tara Green Jones '02

Missionary, International Mission Board

Click Here

Class Notes

We want to hear from our Alumni!
Would you like to be included in a future edition of Class Notes? Just send us the latest information on you and your career accomplishments, weddings, births, and/or adoptions. Click here to submit your information. High resolution photos may be emailed to

Back to UMobile Magazine Home