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Remarks at the Higher Education Summit for Global Development

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Loy Henderson Auditorium
Washington, DC
April 30, 2008

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. First of all, I apologize for being just a little bit late, but since I’m in a room of fellow educators, I think you’ll understand. I went down to the Marshall Wing to talk to a group of young people from the Middle East who are here on fellowships and internships. They are young democracy advocates and activists from Egypt and Iraq and Jordan and Lebanon and Yemen. And we got into a rather intensive dialogue about change and how to bring it about and I’m afraid I lost track of time.

So, thank you very much for allowing me to come and thank you, Henrietta, for pinch-hitting until I could get here. I’d like to thank Henrietta for the introduction that she’s just given me, which I’m sure was a perfectly nice introduction even though I didn’t really hear it. (Laughter.) Was it a good one? Good, thank you.

And I’d like to thank the staffs of USAID and the Education Department for this great event. And I want to acknowledge, especially, my good friend and my cabinet colleague, Margaret Spellings. We started this process together and she has been stalwart in making certain that we pushed it ahead. She’s a terrific Education Secretary. She is a terrific spokesperson for the importance of education. I have always valued her insight and her wise counsel. But most especially, I value her friendship.

Thanks to all of you who have come. You’re an impressive group of people and I’m especially grateful that you took the time out to come and visit. As you know, I was formerly Provost of Stanford and I know that this is a time of year that can be pretty busy as you’re starting to move toward the end of a semester or the end of a quarter. So, I am especially grateful that you took the time to be with us. I want to thank you for your commitment and for the support of our efforts to expand the role of higher education institutions in worldwide economic and social development.

This conference really highlights the potential that we hold when we join forces together: the public sector, the private sector, and, in our case, higher education leaders from around the globe. I see a lot of participants from foreign institutions and I want to thank you for being here. As you know, education is essential to developing human and institutional capacity, that capacity that is so essential to effectively address the most pressing development challenges facing countries around the world. And I want to assure you that America is fully committed to working with you in the months ahead to come to meet the needs of your citizens.

I’d also like to applaud the U.S. corporations, foundations, and higher education institutions that have been active in this effort. Your commitment to working with partners around the globe will bear results of improved education and health care, reduced poverty, better governance practices, and economic growth. The work that you do together has the potential to affect millions for years to come.

Each of your institutions has an important role to play in the future of the world’s youth, particularly in countries where young people are searching for alternatives to the lure of violent extremism. Together, we can unleash a combined power to counter the purveyors of hate, to give young people hope, and to lift up impoverished communities around the globe.

I want to assure each of you that the United States Government, and I in particular, and Margaret, will be your partners in advancing education. Education is the key that gives people around the globe access to unprecedented opportunities of the global economy. Indeed, for this reason, and for many others, I believe that education is not just an issue of education. It is, in fact, a national security issue for all countries in today’s world. And the American Government and the American people will help you to meet them.

Consider this. Globally, United States funding for basic education programs has risen from $100 million in 2000 to $694 million across the globe this fiscal year. This investment is enabling boys and girls in most developing countries to get an education, especially those who are on the margins of society: the poor, the disadvantaged, minorities, and indigenous peoples with historics -- histories of discrimination. In Africa, President Bush has launched two initiatives: The Africa Education Initiative and the Initiative to Expand Education. Funding for these is being used to promote the delivery of and access to quality education for millions more children, youth, and adults. The programs reflect this Administration’s belief that a quality education is vital to so many other hopes that we hold for children around the world, whether it is good health or civic participation or economic opportunity.

One country that particularly highlights the enormous potential of education is Afghanistan, and I know that we have a number of presidents of Afghan universities here today. In 2001, girls were prohibited from attending school. Today, there are more than 1.5 million girls enrolled in school. Literacy is improving. Health care rates are getting better. And at the same time, today, Afghanistan is now the fastest growing economy in South Asia. In fact, Afghanistan’s per capita annual income has nearly doubled in recent years.

We all know that the better educated you are, the better you are likely to do in terms of economic progression and in terms of economic well-being. We know, too, that education is the foundation for better things in life. But I’d like to suggest to you that we spend just a moment setting aside this rather instrumental view of education and why it's important. Of course, we want our kids to be able to get a good job and to have families and to provide for them, but don't we want more for them? Don't we want them to be able to take advantage of the truly transformative nature of education?

You see, I’ve never believed that education was just a way to get a job. Education is really a way to remake yourself. Education is a way to have no limits on your horizons. Education is a way, in a sense, to be born anew. Education is a way to completely and totally become who you should be, who you want to be, who you ought to be, not who you currently are. It opens the mind. It opens the heart. It opens the horizons. A quality education, then, is at the core of what it is to become fully and completely a human being reaching his or her full potential.

I have learned this in my own life many times. I was fortunate to be the child of educators. My parents were teachers. But my grandfather was a man who was a sharecropper’s son. And somehow, he decided he wanted to get book learning. And he went off to little Stillman College to get book learning from his home in Ewtah, Alabama – E-w-t-a-h, Alabama. (Laughter.) And Granddaddy Rice kept asking, in what was the parlance of the day, how a colored man could go to college.

And so they told him about Stillman and he went off and he sold cotton that he himself had raised to be able to go to college. And after his first year, they said, all right, how are you going to pay for your second year? And he said, well, I don’t have any more cotton. And they said, then you’ll have to leave. And he said, well, how are those boys going to college? And they said, well, they have what’s called a scholarship and if you wanted to be a Presbyterian minister, then you could have a scholarship too. (Laughter.) And Granddaddy Rice said, “That’s exactly what I had in mind.” (Laughter.) And my family has been Presbyterian and college-educated ever since. (Laughter.)

I never knew my grandfather, but the stories about him were incredible. He died two months before I was born, but his legacy was one that I dearly appreciate. His daughter would go on to be a Ph.D. in Victorian Literature -- (Applause.) -- his son, my father, the Associate Vice Chancellor of the University of Denver. And one story that was told to me has special meaning. Apparently, during the Great Depression, Granddaddy Rice came home one day and he had with him nine brand new leather-bound books. And my grandmother said to him, where did you get those? And he said, I bought them. And she said, how much did you pay for them? He said $90. Imagine $90 in the Great Depression. And they were the works of Dumas and the works of Shakespeare and the works of Victor Hugo.

And my grandmother was furious knowing that there was much more that could have been done with $90. My grandfather said, well, we can pay for them month to month. That didn’t help. But those books said something about my grandfather’s horizons: this sharecropper’s son who wanted to remake himself through learning. And one of the proudest days of my life was when I got my own Ph.D. and my father gave me the surviving seven leather-bound books.

Those stories I tell you because they perhaps speak to why a black girl from Birmingham, Alabama eventually ended up as Secretary of State. And it speaks to why what you are doing across the world, in partnership with us and in partnership with your people, speaks not just to what job you will hold, not just to what benefits you will gain, but truly who you will become. And that is the greatest gift that anyone could possibly give the children of the world. Thank you very much. (Applause.)


Released on April 30, 2008

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