Condoleezza Rice: Find something you are passionate about

Dr. Condi with students at Regions

Dr. Condoleeza Rice speaks to students in Birmingham, Ala. at Regions bank. Photo by Chanda Temple.

By Chanda Temple

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice always thought she’d be a concert pianist.

She could play the piano and read music before she could read. But by the end of her sophomore year in college, she attended a prestigious music festival and school where music prodigies at the age of 12 had put her piano playing skills to shame.

Hmm, she thought, maybe piano is not for me.

She began to look at other fields of study.

English literature? Nope. She hated it.

State and local government? Too boring.

International politics? Now, you’re talking. She took a college class while at the University of Denver and was hooked. She excelled in the course work. She learned how to speak Russian and got her doctorate in international studies in 1981. In 1993, she became the first black female provost at Stanford University; in 2001, President George W. Bush appointed her as national security advisor; and in 2005, she started working as the first black female U.S. Secretary of State. In 2009, she left the post and returned to teaching. She’s written several books and is an accomplished golfer.

Her journey taught her several things about following one’s passion, which she shared today with a packed auditorium at Regions Bank, where students from Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Ala. hung on her every word. They were joined by bank executives and school officials.

Find something you are passionate about

When Rice realized the piano would not be her passion, she put in the work to find a better fit with something else. She did. If you don’t find your passion, it’s going to find you, she said. She stressed that students should not let anyone choose their passion based on their gender or race. They need to find it themselves. Once they do, they’ll love it. “Your passion is your passion,” she said.

Do something hard

If you are good at writing and reading, for example, take more science and math, she said. You will get more joy at doing something hard and overcoming it than taking the easy route, she said.

Once you find your passion, remember to help others

Once you’ve mastered your passion, be sure to go back and help others. If public speaking is a passion, for example, work hard to perfect it. Then, go back and help someone else on that same public speaking journey. And once you’ve excelled and given back, if people don’t praise your goodwill efforts, don’t worry about the lack of accolades. When you start to worry, she said, you have lost control and given control to someone else. Don’t give the levers to someone else, she said. Keep the levers in your own hands.

Jaylen King

Jaylen King greets Condoleezza Rice. He was one of three students to deliver a speech in front of Rice today. (Photo by Chanda Temple)

Senior Jaylen King couldn’t believe his luck in not only seeing Rice today, but also being one of three students to give a speech in front of her. The purpose of today’s event was to highlight the work the Woodlawn students have done with public speaking  – one of Rice’s passions. Once the event ended, King remained in awe.

“I’m looking at someone who’s just like me and who’s doing what I want to do and that’s be successful,” he said.

NOTE: Regions surprised Jaylen King and student speakers Jade Williams and Mohamed Jalloh each with $2,500 scholarships after today’s speeches.

Woodlawn High School Senior Jade Williams and Condoleezza Rice. (Photo by Chanda Temple)

Woodlawn High School Senior Jade Williams and Condoleezza Rice. She was one of three students to speak before Rice today. (Photo by Chanda Temple)

To read more about today’s events, go here.

To see more photos from today, visit the Birmingham City School Facebook page.

Chanda Temple is a former reporter now working in public relations. She blogs at Follow her on Twitter at @chandatemple.




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