MOBILE, Ala. (BP) -- Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told University of Mobile students that her Christian faith is inseparable from the decisions she makes and is the source of her optimism in the face of difficulties.
Rice addressed 400-plus students in a question-and-answer session prior to being the featured speaker at the university's 7th annual Leadership Banquet on Nov. 10, which supports the school's scholarship fund.
Students used social media such as Twitter and Facebook to ask questions of Rice, a native of Birmingham, Ala., who became the first black woman to serve as secretary of state during President George W. Bush's administration. Rice, now a political science professor at Stanford University, fielded questions ranging from her most embarrassing moments to the one word she would want to be remembered by -- "perseverance."
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."
Faith helps a person recognize how fortunate and blessed he or she is -- and to care about people who are not as fortunate or blessed, said Rice, whose father and grandfather were ministers.
"The best part about being a person of faith is that I could be continually optimistic even in hard times," Rice continued. "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 engrained in me."
Rice 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 it," she said.
Find a role model and mentor, she continued. "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 (expert on the) Soviet (Union) … I'd still be waiting," she said.
That evening at the Leadership Banquet, Rice told the audience of nearly 900 that colleges like the University of Mobile are 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," Rice (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."
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."
Although the nation is going through difficult times, Rice said she is encouraged because young people 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.
At a time when the world has been shocked, is chaotic, and cries out for leadership, Rice noted, "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."
The banquet included entertainment provided by student ensembles in the Center for Performing Arts. The university had commissioned an original musical arrangement of three of Rice's favorite hymns, arranged and performed by assistant professor of music Duane Plash. The piano solo, titled "Testament of Hymns," included the hymns "I Need Thee Every Hour," "His Eye is on the Sparrow" and "In the Garden." Rice was presented with a framed copy of the musical score.
Kathy Dean is the director of media relations at the University of Mobile, (Ala.).
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