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updated: 3/19/2014 7:10 PM

Condoleezza Rice opens Judson World Leaders Forum

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  • Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gives the keynote speech Wednesday at Judson University's fourth annual World Leaders Forum in Elgin.

       Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gives the keynote speech Wednesday at Judson University's fourth annual World Leaders Forum in Elgin.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke about the importance of education, the turmoil in Russia and empowering young girls to become leaders in her speech Wednesday at Judson University's fourth annual World Leaders Forum in Elgin.

       Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke about the importance of education, the turmoil in Russia and empowering young girls to become leaders in her speech Wednesday at Judson University's fourth annual World Leaders Forum in Elgin.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gives the keynote speech Wednesday at Judson University's World Leaders Forum in Elgin.

       Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gives the keynote speech Wednesday at Judson University's World Leaders Forum in Elgin.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 

"I always say that I'm a professor who took an eight-year detour in Washington," former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a packed crowd at Judson University Wednesday.

Hundreds of Judson students, faculty and staff members, and visitors from area communities gave a boisterous welcome to Rice, who delivered the keynote speech at the university's fourth annual World Leaders Forum.

The event was sold out with visitors packing the 600-seat capacity Herrick Chapel.

Rice, 59, the first black woman to serve as secretary of state, joins a list of prominent heads of state who headlined the World Leaders Forum in its first three years -- former President George W. Bush, former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Rice also was the first female national security adviser, serving in the Bush administration from 2001 to 2005.

"She is one of the most prolific and well-known foreign policy experts on Russia," Judson President Gene Crume said in his introduction. "She is also a distinguished educator."

Rice, who teaches political science at Stanford University in California, spoke about her love for education, global leadership, the ongoing turmoil in Russia, and empowering young girls to become leaders, among other topics.

As a child growing up in Birmingham, Ala., Rice said her passion was to become a concert pianist. Yet her life's trajectory led her on a different path to become one of the most influential people in American politics.

"Don't let anyone determine what your passion is," Rice said, talking about the importance of students following their dreams. "You will find what you love, and then you'll have to pursue it. You will find that it's more fulfilling to overcome something that's hard, than to constantly do something that is easy. Sometimes your passions come together in the most remarkable ways."

Rice recalled receiving a call from world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma when she was the national security adviser.

"He was getting the National Medal of Arts and he wanted me to play with him," she said. "It was one of the greatest moments of my life. I was playing with the world's greatest cellist because I was the national security adviser who played the piano."

Rice advised students to study abroad, get to know people of other cultures and traditions and to learn from their histories and experiences.

"Learning other languages is an eye-opener about the human experience," she said.

Faith has played an important role in Rice's life. Her mother was an educator, and her father was a Presbyterian minister. "The church was really the center of our lives," she said. "Faith and reason go together. God gave us a brain, and he expects us to use it.

"One of the most important experiences that you can have is the experience of helping out and reaching people who have less than you do. We have come to understand that a great democracy of course rests on rights, but it also rests on responsibilities. And the most important responsibility is the responsibility of individual citizens toward individual citizens."

Judson freshman Alex Reinhold of Huntley said he was inspired by Rice's speech and wants to study politics. "It was just amazing to bring an important person here at Judson," he said.

Jill Rodriguez of Elgin, a Judson employee, said she would like to see Rice run for the presidency.

"I'm just very impressed by her intelligence, her humility" she said. "I think she would make a fantastic president. She is one fantastic role model to anyone."

Rice said among the things she wants to accomplish now is finish writing a book about democracy.

"I hope to help people understand that even though it's really difficult ... that there really is no choice but democracy as the system of government that sustains human dignity," she said.

As for her legacy, Rice said that is up to history to judge.

"I have always advocated for people to be able to make great choices," she said. "Democracy is for everybody, not just for the West. I really love being part of a university. It's not so much the things you do, it's the people you touch."

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