Condoleezza Rice Grows From Promising Concert Pianist to History Maker; Faces Tough Criticism But Remains Grounded

January 26, 2005, the U.S. Senate approved the nomination of Condoleezza Rice for United States Secretary of State with a vote of 85-13, making her the first African-American women, second African American (following Colin Powell) and second woman (following Madeleine Albright), to secure the position.

As part of her duty as the head of the Department of State she will be the highest-ranking Cabinet official and the fourth in line to succeed the President. Her primary responsibility will be to oversee foreign affairs, which includes advising the President concerning foreign policy.

Rice has been criticized for her initial refusal to testify before the 9/11 Commission (also known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States). Challenges she may face in her new position could stem from her adamant support of President Bush’s decision to force an assault on Iraq in 2003. Despite these challenges, Rice continues to stand firm in the face of opposition.

During her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rice politely chastised Senator Barbara Boxer of California for what she felt was an attempt to “impugn her integrity.” During the confirmation hearing, Boxer said to Rice, “…your loyalty to the mission you were given, to sell [the war against Iraq], overwhelmed your respect for the truth.”

In addition, she accused Rice of making contradictory statements and being unwilling to admit to mistakes surrounding the invasion of Iraq.

Senator and defeated Presidential candidate John Kerry said he had “reservations” regarding Rice’s nomination and criticism for the White House’s Iraq policies. Senators Kerry and Boxer were the only members of the Foreign Relations Committee to vote against Rice’s appointment.

Yet, some senators are in support of her new post such as Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who was quoted as saying during a congressional hearing, “Dr. Rice’s fitness for the job is plain to every Member of this Chamber…She has built lasting, personal relationships with world leaders and foreign policymakers throughout the world… Most importantly, she has the complete trust and confidence of the President, and is perfectly poised to follow his leadership as America promotes freedom and democracy across the globe. Dr. Rice is the ideal person to lead the State Department at this time.” Condoleezza Rice will continue to face many obstacles she must overcome in her new position as Secretary of State, where her characteristic resilience will be most necessary.

Rice is also a tenured Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and has worked under the presidential administrations of Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

She has also been a member of the board of directors for establishments such as Chevron Corporation, the Charles Schwabb Corporation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. During George W. Bush’s first term, she held the post of National Security Advisor to the President, the second African American and first woman to hold the position.

Condoleezza Rice, also known as Condi Rice, was born in Birmingham, Alabama November 14, 1954, the same year as the pivotal Brown v. Board of Education decision. Growing up in the segregated South, she learned early the harsh realities associated with racism and bigotry. At the age of eight, her schoolmate Denise McNair was one of four young ladies killed in the infamous bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963. Experiencing segregation firsthand instilled within Rice the fortitude to supercede the expectations of others by being better than her White counterparts.

The only child of Reverend John Wesley Rice, Jr. and Angelena Rice, a music teacher, Condi initially planned to pursue a career as a concert pianist. This desire changed at the age of 15 when as a student at the University of Denver, a class on international politics changed her course.

This class, taught by Josef Korbel, the father of Madeleine Albright, swayed her career interests towards international relations. In 1974, at the age of 19, she earned a bachelor’s degree cum laude in political science from the University of Denver. She continued to the University of Notre Dame where she received a master’s degree in 1975. Returning to the University of Denver, she obtained her Ph.D. from the university’s Graduate School of International Studies in 1981.