As part of her visit to Queens, former U.S. Sec. of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice spent an hour with more than 450 students and faculty Oct. 25.
Students from Queens' Critical Thought Symposium class posed questions to kick off the discussion with Dr. Rice on a diverse array of topics including the justification for the invasion of Iraq and whether China could become the world's leading economy.
But before she answered those questions, Dr. Rice challenged students to "find what you love to do, find your passion," adding that "once you've found it, it makes getting up easier and more fun every day."
She also said that encouragement from her parents, who were both teachers, helped inspire her to explore her aptitudes and consider careers that weren't typical. "I remember telling my father that I wanted to change my major from piano to Soviet studies," she said. "He didn't say 'What's a nice black girl from Birmingham, Alabama going to do with that?' Instead, he pushed me forward toward realizing my goals."
A student asked what she believed the strongest justification for the U.S. invasion of Iraq had been, and Dr. Rice ran through a long list of atrocities Saddam Hussein was known to have committed, including crimes against his own people.
"You have to think about this implacable cancer in the Middle East, starting two wars in the Middle East, trying to assassinate President George Bush, and putting 400,000 of his own people in mass graves," she said. "We had intelligence that wasn't entirely correct, but we knew those things were true. I do have great regret over the tremendous loss of life that happened during that time, though."
She said despite our economy woes and other domestic issues that need serious attention including K-12 education, the United States is a "beacon of hope" to the rest of the world, and a place where "you can come from humble circumstances and do great things."
Several times during the student program Dr. Rice injected humor into her comments. While speaking about her early career she said, "Fast forward to years later, as I'm sitting in a helicopter with Mr. Gorbachev and his wife, and I'm thinking 'I sure am glad I changed my major from piano to Soviet studies.'"
She recounted how years later Yo-Yo Ma invited to her accompany him during his National Medal performance. "And I realized that I wasn't there getting to play with the world's best living cellist because I was the best pianist in the world, I was there because I was National Security Advisor."
Thus, she said, "both things are important in your life - finding your vocation and your avocations."
The student lecture - which ended with a standing ovation - was a prelude to the public lecture at the Belk Theatre at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. The evening lecture was sold out and Rice captivated the crowd with anecdotes that provided an inside look at the White House and her work as Secretary of State.
Dr. Rice's visit was sponsored by The Learning Society at Queens and Premier healthcare alliance. Past speakers have included Bob Woodward, Henry Kissinger, John Irving and Fareed Zakaria.