Standing on the steps of New Haven’s Hopkins School Thursday, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recounted the story of how her grandfather became the first person in her family to receive a college degree, emphasizing education’s “transformative power.”
Rice attended the private day school’s annual academic convocation ceremony, delivering a formal address and engaging in a question-and-answer session with students. Rice advised students on how to make the most of their educational opportunities, peppering her talk with colorful anecdotes about her own experiences as a student, professor and public servant.
“Everyone is not only worthy but also capable of greatness, and what enables this is education,” Rice said. “If you can get a quality education, you can do anything.”
Hopkins School’s headmistress, Barbara Riley, said the “integrity and intelligence” Rice demonstrated while in the public eye inspired her to invite the former secretary to the event. She added that Rice’s background in education, as a professor and former provost of Stanford University, made her an ideal speaker for a student audience.
In her speech, Rice outlined five points to help students navigate through their educational career, encouraging them to find their passion, challenge themselves, study other languages and cultures, take things one step at a time, and always stay optimistic and grateful for their opportunities.
“We are too quickly becoming a society that asks, ‘Why don’t I have?’ and ‘Why don’t they give me?’ but if we adopt this mentality, we have lost control over our own circumstances,” Rice said. “Education is not a right, it is not an entitlement, it is a privilege.”
Following the speech, Rice answered questions from the student body on topics including her relationship with former President George W. Bush ’68 — in whose administration she served as national security advisor before she was named secretary of state — her opinion on the use of executive powers in matters of national security, and her view of President Barack Obama’s approach to foreign affairs.
Ian Clark, a science teacher at Hopkins, said Rice “respected the intellect of the kids” and filled her speech with “substance,” noting that all of the students appeared to be paying attention.
All 11 Hopkins students interviewed said they felt “engaged” with Rice’s speech and enjoyed the opportunity to hear her respond to their questions.
“It was really a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and it’s such a privilege in high school to be able to listen to someone like her,” sophomore Valerie Daifotis said.
Eighth graders Abigail Davis and Alexandra McCraven said that while Rice was very articulate, she also did a good job appealing to the age group of her audience.
McCraven added that hearing Rice — the first woman to serve as national security advisor and the African-American woman to serve as Stanford provost and secretary of state — talk candidly about the obstacles she overcame was inspirational.
“It felt like we were living the journey with her,” McCraven said.
Rice now directs Stanford’s Global Center for Business and the Economy.