Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Higher education has always been special in my family. And in fact, we all have our heroes. My particular hero, or one of my particular heroes, is my paternal grandfather and he is my hero because he was actually the one who decided, as a sharecropper’s son, in Ewtah, Alabama that he was going to get book-learning. And so someplace around 1916 or 1917, he asked people coming through where a colored man could get a college education. And they told him about little Stillman College, which was some 60 miles away from where he lived. They said, “You know, if you can go to Stillman, you can get an education.” And so he saved up his cotton, he went off to Stillman College and he went through his first year. And then in the second year, they said, “Okay, how do you plan to pay for college now?” And he said, “But I’m out of cotton.” They said, “Then you’re out of luck.” He said, “Well, how are those boys going to college?” And they said, “Well, you see, they have what’s called a scholarship and if you wanted to be a Presbyterian minister, then you could have a scholarship, too.” And my grandfather said, “You know, it’s exactly what I had in mind.” And my family has been Presbyterian and college-educated ever since.
Somehow, my grandfather knew that higher education would be transforming for him. And what he couldn’t have known is that the American higher educational system would not just be transforming for a young boy from Ewtah, Alabama but in fact for people around the world. This transformative capability of American higher education has been very clear to me in my work as a professor because I witnessed the life changing potential of international exchange among my American students who studied abroad and among the diverse foreign students who studied at Stanford from every region of the world who regularly enriched my classrooms in ways that only they could do.
A few of these students are deeply ingrained in my memory. I remember teaching a young woman from Timishoara, Romania, who had been through as a 13-year old, some of the worst violence in Romania during the December Revolution. And one day, we were talking and she wanted to know whether in segregated Birmingham in 1963 during violence I had experienced something like she had where young children had been killed. And I told her about my experience in losing a little classmate, Denise MacNair, in the church that was bombed at 16th Street in September of 1963. And I suddenly realized that across this vast divide from Romania to Birmingham, Alabama, there was a common experience that brought us together. She’s still a young woman who now works in Paris. She stops by from time to time. She was here a month or so ago to see me. She’s a student I’ll always remember.
So for these students and many like them, the university and America itself was a sanctuary for open inquiry and self-improvement where, for the first time in their lives, they were safe and free to pursue the cause of knowledge in a condition of freedom.
Now, as Secretary of State, I have a new appreciation for how education can bridge those national boundaries. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met foreign leaders and heads of state who studied in America. I think you could tell today the President is passionate about this because he sits down across from these leaders and they’ve gone to all kinds of schools in the United States. They’ve gone to community colleges, they’ve gone to small colleges, they’ve gone to land-grant colleges, they’ve gone to research universities. They’ve all had the common experience of studying in America. And the experience then becomes one that binds them to us in a way that can never be broken.
On a recent trip to Saudi Arabia, I was meeting with the princes of the royal family and some members of the foreign ministry and we got into a conversation and one of them said proudly, “I’m a Trojan.” Another piped up that he, like me, was a “Pioneer” from the University of Denver. And I had that kind of interaction over and over again. But you know, in Saudi Arabia, it is true of my generation that these students studied in America. But with the next generation, they are not studying in America. That is something that we must correct and that we must change.
As Secretary, one of my highest priorities is to reinvigorate our efforts to connect America to the people of the world through education. In today’s international system, the distance between here and there is getting smaller. The time it takes people and ideas to traverse the globe is rapidly shrinking. And the thoughts and actions of individuals carry more impact than ever. And as a result, exchanges between peoples are as important as exchanges between diplomats.
Today, every American studying abroad is an ambassador for our nation, an individual who represents the true nature of our people and the principles of freedom and democracy for which we stand. Similarly, every foreign student attending one of our universities represents an opportunity to enhance democracy in America and to strengthen the cause of freedom abroad. Our citizens learn from the different perspectives that foreign students bring to our classrooms. And when these students ultimately return to their home overseas, they have new friends that they have met and memories of America that they will never forget.
America’s mission in this new century must be to welcome more foreign students to our nation and send more of our citizens abroad to study. To be successful, our government and our universities must forge a new partnership for education exchange, a partnership that rests on new thinking and new action.
In the Summit that we are launching, we will begin a discussion about how we can work together to achieve our common goals. We must work together to expand existing programs with proven records of success. One is the Fulbright Scholarship Program which, over the past six decades, has brought a quarter of a million students from 185 countries to study in America. Another newer program is the Gilman Scholarship which, in just the past five years, has enabled 2,200 American students to study abroad.
We must cultivate new relationships for education exchange with countries that are playing an increasingly important international role. As the global center of gravity shifts from West to East, and as regions like the Broader Middle East struggle to embrace democratic reform, American students must be at the forefront of our engagement with countries like China and India, Iraq and Afghanistan. To prepare young Americans to understand the peoples who will help to define the 21st century, nothing is more important than our ability to converse in their native tongues. And that is why the new National Security Language Initiative that was launched today by President Bush is a critical goal and a critical initiative of this Administration.
At the same time, we must actively recruit students from these new strategic countries to live and study in America. And here we’re faced with massive untapped potential. There’s a multitude of eager young people out there just waiting to hear from us.
As an academic myself, I believe that educated people have a special responsibility to give back to the nation that has given them so much. Few Americans are in a position to use their great talents for such great purposes. So let me urge all of you to encourage your students to consider a life of service upon graduation, perhaps a life of service in the diplomacy of our nation through the Foreign Service, through our military forces, through our intelligence services or somehow in public service. Public service is a wonderful way to give back. We have to make certain that we’re reaching out to others and that they are reaching back to us.#