The Privilege of Education
The author of a summer reading assignment doesn’t typically draw standing ovations from a crowd of 8,000– a fourth of them were freshmen required to read the book.
But former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, author of Extraordinary, Ordinary People, isn’t your average writer.
Rice was welcomed at Montana State University on Sept. 5, when she visited the Bozeman, Mont. campus to deliver the convocation speech to the freshman class at the Montana State Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.
“I admire her so much and I read the book eight or nine months ago,” said Mary Beth Billstein, a Billings, Mont. resident who made the drive for Rice’s speech. “I think we need to appreciate how hard people work and what they achieve.”
Rice spoke about what she called “the three great shocks to the international system” during the start of the 21st Century: The September 11 attacks in 2001, the global and economic financial crisis, and the fight for freedom in the Middle East.
She reminded students that freedom and democracy are not the same, and argued that authoritarianism is not stable. Her larger message to the convocation class and those in attendance was that “we have to stand with them [the Middle East]” in their fight for freedom.
Rice encouraged students to be optimistic as they embarked on their new journey, and to be open to the transforming power of education. She also shared her family story, speaking about the hero of education in the Rice family—her grandfather, John Wesley Rice Sr.
It was from him that she learned the value of education at a very young age, she said. Rice also shared a few intimate moments with the audience as she shared her college story and her journey to find her niche in life. “If you don’t find your passion, it might just find you! That’s what happened to me,” Rice said, before telling the students about her run as a piano major with dreams to play at Carnegie Hall.
Rice also encouraged the incoming class to try something hard, study languages, travel abroad, get to know the faculty, and not take education for granted.
“Think each and every day of your education as a privilege, not a right,” she said, urging the audience not to feel entitled, but to apply their higher educational experience and tutor a child, help the homeless, or those less fortunate.
Following her speech, Rice graced the audience with her piano skills as she played The Swan and America the Beautiful on a grand piano. She was accompanied on stage by Montana State professor of music and world-renowned cellist, Dr. Ilsa-Marie Lee. Members of the audience took to the stage during America the Beautiful by singing along.
She concluded her time with a rousing fight song, with students joining her fist-pumping to the many choruses of, “Go Cats Go!”