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ATLANTA—Condoleezza Rice brought the “Be” theme of the SHRM 2012 Annual Conference to life during Sunday afternoon’s opening general session. Throughout her keynote address and follow-up Q&A session with CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien, Rice demonstrated what it meant to be extraordinary, to be passionate and to be a leader.
“She is the classic overachiever who refused to allow traditional barriers to prevent her from becoming the best that she could be,” O’Brien said in her introduction of Rice.
After O’Brien’s introduction, Rice took the stage and spoke for 20 minutes on events that are shaping the world. She told the audience that in the past 11 years three key events shook and changed the world drastically. The terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001, was the first event Rice mentioned.
“You cannot have lived through that and not had your faith in the security of this nation and the stability of the world shaken,” she said.
Rice then discussed the global economic meltdown of 2007-08 and the fragile economy of today as the second major event. The third and final event she mentioned was the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011.
While those three events shook people’s faith in their financial well-being and the political stability of the world, Rice told the audience that she remained optimistic about the future. She said that key to that future was the strength and stability of the United States. Still, people are concerned and worried about the survival of the U.S.
“I have traveled through this country and met with people, and you can sense that they are tired of the global pressures, they are scared and many are ready to withdraw,” she said. “People are asking are we as a nation solid?”
What has made the U.S. strong and kept the country moving forward has been the national credo that “it doesn’t matter where you come from, what matters is where you are going,” Rice said.With that credo in mind she told the audience that the biggest threat to national security in the U.S. is the crisis in K-12 education.
“When I can tell by your ZIP code whether or not your child will receive a good education, then it does matter where you come from in the U.S.,” she said. “Faith in human potential and the ability to reinvent the way the world works have been what this country has always been about. And we are in danger of losing that.”
Rice told a story about a little black girl who grew up in Alabama and couldn’t go to certain schools, drink from some water fountains or eat in certain restaurants.
“Her parents convinced that little girl that she could still grow up to be president and eventually she became secretary of state,” Rice said. “So I remain optimistic about our future, and I believe that it will be led by the most generous and most compassionate nation on earth, and that country is called the United States of America.”
Rice now is a professor of political economy with the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution. Since her departure from government service, Rice has been working to raise awareness about the underperforming educational system of the U.S. She served as co-chair with a task force on education for the Council on Foreign Relations and helped to author the report, U.S. Education Reform and National Security.
In the Q&A session, O’Brien asked Rice if she would consider running for political office.
“I love policy, but I’m not a big fan of politics,” Rice answered.
She told O’Brien that teaching and education were her passion, and that she saw it as her way to remain in public service and give something back.
“I am passionate about what education affords everyone,” Rice said. “Education is very consequential and can help us tap into our true human potential. The core of our success is human potential, and the only way to reach that core is to provide everyone access to the best educational system possible.”
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