Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Condoleezza Rice speaks at BYU

Photo by Luke Hansen. BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson speaks with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Photo taken by Luke Hansen and published in the Daily Universe.

So I still have no idea why the forum at BYU was not broadcasted.  There obviously must be some important reason....  Something else that was interesting was that BYU devotionals/ forums are always on Tuesday.  I can remember NO exceptions--it has ALWAYS been Tuesday.  Everything completely closes on Tuesdays during devotional time.  No classes, no stores are open, no cafeterias, no meetings.  Well, this week, Condoleezza Rice came on Thursday and (apparently--I wouldn't know from experience!) the class schedules were switched to accommodate her.

I arrived at the Marriott Center around 10:35ish.  Thinking I would have *plenty* of time to get a great seat because I would be getting there before the class change time.  Wrong-o!  The place was packed by the time I arrived.  Since I was by myself, I was able to find a fairly decent seat.  They normally try to keep people sitting in "front" but as the class change time occurred, even the nose bleed seats were filled.  The only other time I remember seeing people sitting behind the speaker was when Pres. Monson came a couple of years ago.

As Condoleezza Rice came in, I wasn't sure what to do.  I was thinking about how if it was a church leader we would all silently stand.  I was thinking about various other guest speakers at forums and normally there wasn't a response when they came in.  I don't think I was the only one thinking this because it was kind of awkward as she started walking on to the floor.  A few people started clapping and then a few others started standing.  That seemed like as good of a welcome as any.  Soon everyone was standing and clapping--another interesting point to this forum.  I don't remember that ever happening before.

The dignitaries on the stand were: Pres. Cecil O. Samuelson (obviously being President of BYU...  but his wife was not with him.), Sister Julie B. Beck, Elder Garret W. Gong, and Jeanette Herbert (first lady of Utah).

Anyway... now that all of that background information is out of the way...  (Please keep in mind that this post is all coming from notes I frantically took while she was speaking.  I tried my best to capture the important quotes and ideas but this is all written from my perspective.  Obviously someone else there might have thought other parts were more important.  If it was an actual quote she said, it will appear in quote marks.  If it was the general idea then it is without the quotes.)

Rice generally spoke about 3 things:  (1) the importance of advocating democracy, (2) gaining an education, and (3) finding your passion.  She started out by saying that she was a classic pianist which she learned from her mother and an avid football (though all sports) fan which she learned from her father.  Her parents would often tell her, "You are prepared for whatever is ahead of you.  You are God's child and you are in His care." (I loved this quote.  It totally applies to me and I was grateful to hear such a sweet reminder--even from someone not of our faith.)

While she was serving as the 66th Secretary of State (January 2005-2009), she kept the pictures of Thomas Jefferson and 3 other former secretary of state pictures near her.  For each person she listed, there was a reason why.  Some of them she didn't agree with what they did but they were still an inspiration.  Others she really admired and tried to be like.  When the press would ask for information from her, she would often respond with, "Today's headlines and history's judgement are rarely the same."  And then speaking to the audience she added, "You will not be judged by what you do today, but by how it looks over time."

The Importance of Advocating Democracy
We have to defend our country.  Everyday after September 11th it was always September 12th.  (She was not serving as the Secretary of State when this happened but she was still in Washington D.C. as the National Security Advisor.)  "The terrorists have to be right once--we have to be right 100% of the time."  Our chances are not fair but that doesn't mean we quit.  She firmly believes that we have to complete the job we started in Afghanistan.  We need to have a vision for them and to help heal the broken states.  "Stand for the proposition that every  man, woman and child deserves to live in freedom."

She discussed the practical reason for democracy--if people can't resolve the problems peacefully, then they will do it violently.  Every dictator or authoritarian is fearful of the moment when their people no longer fear them.  (Yesterday in my Sunday School class, we were talking about the birth of Jesus Christ and discussing how Herod was involved.  Someone in the class made the comment of how Herod was a perfect example of this part of the forum discussion.  It really is the perfect example!  Herod was scared to loose his power and that the people would no longer fear him.  Because of this, he had every baby under the age of 2 killed.  This was an action done likely to put the fear back into the people and also because he was afraid of being overthrown by this "supposed king".)  We are lucky/ blessed to live in a country where the power is given to the people to decide who will govern us.  This is a "safety valve" because if we no longer like the people leading then we can decide to kick them out.

While Rice was serving as the secretary of state, she had the opportunity to travel around the world and see what other people/ countries like and don't like about the U.S.A.  Some people are overwhelmed by our military, economic strength and culture.  But generally the people are still grateful for our support.  Others appreciate our ability to help in relief efforts and our compassion for them.  One thing that everyone always admires about America is our national myth--"it doesn't matter where you came from, it matters where you are going."  This is what leads people to immigrate here because they are willing to work hard.  They are willing to scrub floors so they can hope for a better life for their children.  She declared that we want people who are energetic and ambitious, that we need people to come to us to help better the next generation.

Gaining an Education
The "national myth" has to be true not only for others but for us as Americans too.  Rice deeply admires the LDS people--our beliefs and the strong culture of family.  "Family is the core of who I am."  She then proceeded to share a story about her grandfather, John Wesley Rice Sr.  He wanted to attend college and so he found a very small college that would accept black people.  He saved enough cotton to be able to pay for his first year of college.  He then ran out of money and thought he was out of luck.  He wondered how some of the other students were able to pay for their college and found out that scholarships were given to those who were studying to be Presbyterian ministers.  He declared right then that becoming a minster was exactly what he wanted to do.  Rice's family has been Presbyterian and educated ever since.  "My grandfather understood the power of education."

"With all of the other challenges that Americans face, our greatest national security threat will be the disastrous state of our K-12 educational system."  Rice talked about how how we will have a generation of people that will be unemployable because there is not enough people willing to make a difference in the K-12 system.  We must reaffirm excellence.  (Having just graduated in education--any guesses why I loved this part of the talk so much!!??)  Our idea is that you can come from humble circumstances and do great things.  "We are not held together by a religion or blood... but rather by that idea.  That is why it is so important for every child to succeed."  "Self-esteem comes from doing something well.  We do not hold our children to a high enough level."  Sidenote:  after the forum ended, she took a few question and answers--one question asked how to improve our K-12 system.  It fit so well that I am going to include it here.  "Reinforce the need for excellence."  There were 3 ideas she had.  (1) have higher standards for the children, (2) we need better teachers--"If you are not meant to be a teacher, either improve or get our of the profession.  Our children deserve better.", and (3) education needs to be broad--  "Arts are not extra curricular--it is part of becoming a well rounded person and it is a different type of learning."

As educated people, you have been given a gift and have special responsibilities.  You are responsible to be optimistic.  You are fortunate that BYU believes that faith and reason go together.  "It is necessary to integrate your knowledge of what is with your faith of what can be."  You must take advantage of this place where faith and reason are so greatly connected.  (I was impressed she knew so much about BYU at this point.  Or maybe everyone knows that because it is a religious school and you could make the assumptions about the University of Notre Dame or any of the St. _______ College.  Either way, I thought it was neat that we were being encouraged to keep religious and secular studies together!)

Finding Your Passion
I want to encourage you to find your passion while you are here at BYU.  "What will make you get up everyday for the rest of your life and make you think, I want to do that."  As a freshman entering college, she thought she would always graduate in piano performing.  She had grown up with it and her mom was a classic pianist.  By the end of her sophomore year, she decided that the piano wasn't her passion.  She told her parents and went back to school as a junior with an undeclared major.  Her parents urged her to pick something because although it was her life, they were the ones paying for her now unsure of the path of life.  She changed her major 3 times and finally stumbled upon International Relations.  She had found her passion and wanted to become a soviet specialist.  Her parents completely supported her and told her to go for her dreams.

"Worlds open up to you that never thought possible when you find your passion!"  Find it!  "If you love to write, take more math.  If you love math, write more.  I was more fulfilled by mastering something that was hard for me rather than something that was easy."  When you overcome something that is hard, you know you have achieved.

Take advantage of study abroad programs and learn other languages.  Not only is it good to get to know what others lives are like but it is a humbling moment when you try to communicate with someone in their native language.  Rice took 3 years of Russian in graduate school and then headed of to Moscow as part of a study abroad program.  Her dorm had cockroaches and she was nominated to go tell the landlady.  As she stumbled through her Russian, she told the lady she had lice.  "But on that day when they finally understand you, there is nothing like it."

Closing Remarks
Keep your optimism.  "As educated people, you have a responsibility to be optimistic about where we are going."  "I am optimistic because of you, because I am American and because I am optimistic by nature."  Whenever I was lacking in optimism, I would read the biographies of the founding fathers.  Think of your own history--whoever would have thought that a tiny church founded on the East coast by a young boy would be the church or size that it is today.  Think of me--whoever would have thought that a black girl would support the president.  And I did it!  "Whatever you are lacking in optimism, remember that hard things have been overcome in the past.  Remember that!"
So I know this picture isn't the greatest...
I forgot our real camera and this is cell phone quality.
You can see her at the podium but better on the jumbo-tron. :)


Patrick, Adrienne, & Bella said...

great notes! can i copy some of these to my blog?

Lisa said...

Sure--if you link your blog to mine and make sure that everyone knows that it is my opinion of what she said. I think it is accurate but don't really want to fight anyone over it!

Patrick, Adrienne, & Bella said...

for sure! i was going to do just that :) i really like some of the things (specifically) that you got from it and putting that on my blog will help me remember them. :) thanks!!

Lisa said...

I'm interested to read what you liked about my notes! :)