Condoleezza Rice: Education is a Difference-MakerMarch 6, 2015

There are a number of factors that make for successful leaders, according to former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But one of the most valuable, she explained during her visit Wednesday to Kansas City as part of the Rockhurst University Leadership Series luncheon, is getting a good education.

Rice was the third annual speaker featured in the series, following legendary broadcast journalist Dan Rather in 2013 and columnist George Will in 2012. In addition to serving as the first African-American female secretary of state from 2005-2009 under President George W. Bush, Rice also served as a national security advisor for Bush. She is a longtime political science professor at Stanford University, an accomplished pianist, avid golfer, and the author of two New York Times best-sellers.

Perseverance and a will to succeed went a long way in making many of those goals reachable, Rice said. But during her morning question and answer session with a group of Rockhurst University students and her address to an audience of more than 1,000 business and community leaders at the afternoon’s luncheon, she also credited access to higher learning and guidance from her instructors for opening a lot of doors.

“Quality higher education is such a tremendous privilege,” she said.

Rice said her own grandfather, John Wesley Rice Sr., took an opportunity to finish his own college education, though it meant becoming a Presbyterian minister to secure a scholarship, and the wisdom of that decision had been passed down in each generation of her family.

In a question and answer session that also touched on her experiences as a foreign policy expert and as a role model for those who aim to break boundaries, Rice told the students that she relied on a lot of others for support — people that she said did not always look like her.

“One of the most important things in life is to find mentors and role models,” she said. “And those mentors don’t necessarily always look like you. If I waited for a black, female Soviet expert to be my mentor, I would still be waiting.”

Rice also advised the students to always be prepared to make the most of the opportunities they are given and recognize the importance of working together towards common goals.

“Leadership is having a vision and all that — that’s obviously very important,” she said. “But leadership is also being able to recognize the leadership qualities in others and to help them develop those skills.”

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