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Famous Alabamian: Condoleezza Rice

Most Powerful Woman in the World

By Nancy Supko

Famous Alabamian: Condoleezza Rice

Photo Courtesy of Secretary of State website

Condoleezza Rice is without a doubt one of the most impressive women to come out of Alabama (I'm thinking Helen Keller would be the other one). How did she get to where she is now in American politics? Nancy Supko did a little research on Ms. Rice's career and came up with this information:

Condoleezza Rice was born in Birmingham, Alabama, November 14, 1954, the only child of Jamaican immigrants, Angelena Rice and the Reverend John Wesley Rice, Jr. Her father was a minister at Westminster Presbyterian Church and her mother was a music teacher. She learned to read music as the age of three. Her name, Condoleezza, is a variation on the Italian musical term "con dolcezza" which is a direction to play "with sweetness".

Rice was eight when her schoolmate, Denise McNair, was killed in the bombing of the primarily African-American Sixteenth Street Baptist Church by white supremacists on September 15, 1963. Rice states that growing up during segregation taught her determination against adversity, and the need to be "twice as good" as non-minorities.

In 1967, the family moved to Denver when her father accepted an administrative position at the University of Denver.

As a child, Rice was a gifted student and a prodigy on the piano. She entered college at the age of 15 with the intention of becoming a concert pianist. After studying piano at an Aspen music camp, Rice enrolled at the University of Denver, where her father served as an assistant dean and taught a class called "The Black Experience in America."

Her plans changed when she attended a course on international politics taught by Josef Korbel, the father of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. This experience sparked her interest in the Soviet Union and international relations and led her to call Korbel, "one of the most central figures in my life".

In 1974, at age 19, Rice earned her bachelor's degree in political science, cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from the University of Denver. In 1975, she obtained her master's degree from the University of Notre Dame. She worked in the State Department in 1977, during the Carter administration as an intern in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. In 1981, at age 26, she received her Ph.D. from the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver. In addition to English, she speaks Russian, French, and Spanish.

Beginning in 1981, Rice served on the faculty at Stanford University as professor of political science winning two prestigious teaching honors. From 1989 through March 1991 (the period of the fall of Berlin wall and the final days of the Soviet Union), she served in the George H. W. Bush administration as Director, and then Senior Director, of Soviet and East European Affairs in the National Security Council, and as Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.

In this position, Rice helped develop Bush's and Secretary of State James Baker's policies in favor of German reunification. She so impressed Bush that he introduced her to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as the one whom "tells me everything I know about the Soviet Union." During the Clinton administration she returned to Stanford serving a six-year tenure as Provost being responsible for the budget and academic programs. She is the author of several political science books and articles and has served on several corporate boards.

During George W. Bush's election campaign in 2000, Rice took a one-year leave of absence from Stanford to work as his foreign policy advisor. Rice was picked to serve as National Security Advisor on January 22, 2001 and stepped down from her position at Stanford. She was the first woman to occupy the post.

Rice made use of her pianist training by accompanying cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, for Brahms's Violin Sonata in D minor at Constitution Hall in April 2002 and more recently (June 2005) she appeared at the Kennedy Center to accompany young soprano, Charity Sunshine, who is battling pulmonary hypertension, a often-fatal disease. She maintains a strong interest in classical music. Rice is unmarried.

Rice describes herself as a moderate Republican, and has never been identified with so-called "black issues," which has led some African-Americans to view her with suspicion. She says she became a Republican when she watched the 1984 Democratic Convention on TV, and decided that the Democrats' appeals to "women, minorities, and the poor" really meant "helpless people and the poor." Rice said, "I decided I'd rather be ignored than patronized."

Dr. Condoleezza Rice became Secretary of State on January 26, 2005. In July, 2005, Forbes Magazine ranked Dr. Rice as the Most Powerful Woman in the World. There is already talk and websites for Condoleezza Rice for President in 2008. This is certainly one Alabama woman making a mark on American history!

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