Condoleezza Rice speaks at Culver

Jan Garrison

Covers Ukraine, values, leadership in talk


May 10, 2022

President Vladimir Putin and the Russian military seriously miscalculated the resistance Ukrainians are offering, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a special all-school audience at Culver Academies on April 28.

But she doesn’t expect Putin to halt the invasion any time soon. “He has cast his lot now,” she said.

Putin has always believed that Ukraine should be part of the “Russian empire,” she explained. He has called Ukraine a “made-up country” and said 25 million people were left out of Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. But he has discovered the Ukrainians believe otherwise.

Rice spoke about the war in Ukraine and several other topics during the all-school meeting and an early-morning session with AP history and leadership classes. Her appearance, sponsored by the Class of ’62 Student Enrichment Series, was in honor of Culver Girls Academy’s 50th anniversary. The all-school session was moderated by Casey Collins ’22 (Carmel, Indiana).

Rice has also served as the national security advisor to President George W. Bush before becoming the secretary of state. She served as a special advisor on Russian affairs to Brent Scowcroft, who was the national security advisor to George H.W. Bush. She is now Director of the Hoover Institution and professor of political economy and political science at Stanford University.

She received her bachelor’s degree and doctorate from the University of Denver and her master’s from the University of Notre Dame. As a student, Rice lived in Russia for five months. She is also the author of several best-selling books, including “No Higher Honor” and Extraordinary, Ordinary People.”

Rice also referred to the Ukrainians’ resistance when answering Collins’ question about sticking to your values during times of conflict. And there is a lesson for Americans in what is unfolding.

“I think the Ukrainian people are doing a pretty good job of reaffirming our values,” she said. “Because the Ukrainian people are willing to die for the very rights that we have: for the right to say what you think, worship as you please, and choose those who are going to govern you.”

When it comes to making decisions during times of crisis, she told the audience leaders are basing those decisions on the best information available. And in the case of the President of the United States, those decisions may not have the luxury of time.

That is when three aspects of leadership come through. The first is having a good team. That means identifying the leadership qualities in those around the table. Know your team and trust them, she said.

The second important part is “know what questions to ask.” Then “trust your instincts.” You get better as your instincts develop over time, she said. And, finally, don’t be afraid to adjust when those initial decisions don’t turn out.

Rice met with history and leadership students prior to her all-school session.

When Collins asked about dealing with failure, Rice said her career in international politics began when she realized she would never be a concert pianist. After two years as a piano performance major at the University of Denver, she was suddenly without a major. She first tried English Literature, then tried to focus on state and local government. She then “wandered” into a course on international politics taught by Josef Korbel, a former Czech diplomat and political scientist, He was also Madeline Albright’s father. Albright, who recently passed away, served as the secretary of state during the President Bill Clinton’s administration.

She didn’t know how her life would unfold but she found something she was passionate about. “So your first job when you go to college is to figure out what’s you passion; what you really want to get up every morning and go and do and know more about. And once you’ve found that,” she added, “then life has a way of starting to unfold.”

Rice added that the inability of the government to prevent the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, has always felt like a personal regret from her time as national security advisor.

How she rose through the ranks of the diplomatic corps is a study in mentorship. She met Brent Scowcroft, who had been the national security advisor under President Gerald R. Ford, while she was a young professor at Stanford. When Scowcroft became the national security advisor to President George H.W. Bush, Rice joined his team as the Soviet specialist.

“Your mentors and your role models might not look like you,” she added. All of hers were older, white men because they dominated the diplomatic field. “If I’d been waiting for a Black female Soviet specialist role model, I’d still be waiting,” she explained. “You may be the first, which means that your role models may not look like you, your mentors may not look like you.”

When Collins asked about how Rice dealt with the stress, especially while secretary of state, she said she quickly realized that she needed time to herself. Sleep was the big priority. She also enjoys playing and watching sports, especially the NFL. And “I love to play the piano.” She also enjoys time with her friends and family. “You can’t push yourself every moment.”

Rice reminded the students they can’t push themselves all the time. Having a sense of balance is important. Do things that “give you pleasure and joy.” And, “if you’re really feeling pressured, acknowledge that.”

Talk with a friend who will understand the pressures you’re feeling. If you can’t do that, seek out a professional. “There is no shame in saying I can’t quite handle what’s happening to me.

More Recent News