Remarks With Australian Foreign Minister Smith at Mercedes CollegeSecretary Condoleezza Rice
July 24, 2008
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Thank you very much. And first of all, thank you very much for this great Mercedes College welcome. It makes -- it reminds me of being at St. Mary’s Academy, which is where I went to school, in Denver, Colorado. And it really -- it’s so warmly welcomed. And my good friend, your Foreign Minister, Steve Smith -- we were talking when we first met. He came to see me and the first time that we met in Washington, D.C., and he said, “When you come to Australia, you have to come to Perth.” And of course, I said, “Okay, I’d love to do that.” And here I am. So he did that very well.
And he told me also that he wanted to come here, that his lovely daughter -- where’s Maddie? Is she around? So I think Maddie also has had something to do with getting me here. (Laughter.) So it’s a pleasure to be with you.
Well, I was trying to think what I might say to you about my life and how I’ve gotten to where I am. And I thought I would start by saying that to get where I am, I never intended to be where I am, and that’s maybe the most important lesson, because I started out life in Birmingham, Alabama. As a kid, my mom was a schoolteacher. My dad was a high school guidance counselor and a Presbyterian Minister. And from the time that I was about three-and-a-half years old, I was going to be a great concert musician. Because my mother was a pianist, my grandmother was a musician, and my great-grandmother was a musician. And I studied piano and I studied very, very hard, and went off to college to be a music major, studied for a couple of years. And at the end of my sophomore year I had a very, very difficult revelation, which was that I was pretty good, but I wasn’t great. And I was going to end up playing in a piano bar someplace, but I was not going to end up playing Carnegie Hall like I’d planned to do.
And so I went back and I started to look for a major, and luckily for me, I wandered into a course in international politics taught by a man named Joseph Korbel. And Joseph Korbel was the father of my predecessor, Madeleine Albright, who was the first woman Secretary of State of the United States. So it was a sort of interesting connection.
But that just says one thing to me, because many of you are going to be getting ready to go off to college. I’ve met a couple of – the Head Girl and Deputy Head Girl, and we talked about what you might do. And I’d only have one suggestion, which is when you go to college, don’t try to determine what job you’re going to have when you get out. Try to determine what your passion is. Try to figure out what it is you really love to do. And college is great, because you’re going to go and you’ll take courses in the whole range of human knowledge. And it may be that what you’ll end up doing has nothing to do with what you would have expected to do. It may even be something that you don’t even understand very well until you’ve taken a few courses in it. But finding your passion is the most important thing that you can do in the next few years ahead of you.
Now by finding your passion, I mean finding something that makes you want to get up and go and do that everyday. And my passion turned out to be the study of the Soviet Union. Not because I had a drop of Russian blood, I can assure you that – (laughter) – but because I was just interested in it.
And so my second message to you would be that when you find your passion, don’t worry if it’s something that seems a little odd that you’re interested in that, because there is no reason that a black woman from Birmingham, Alabama should have been interested in the Soviet Union. I just was interested in the Soviet Union. Don’t let anybody define for you what you should be interested in. Your horizons should be limitless at this point. You have to find that special combination of what you’re good at doing and what you love to do. And when you find that combination of what you’re good at doing and what you love to do, life is going to work out.
I’m not a great believer in five-year plans. I’m a great believer in finding what you love to do and doing it well. And life does have a way of working out. So when you go off to school, explore, have an opportunity to look at everything that’s before you, and then you may be surprised; something may choose you rather than the other way around.
So that would be my message to these wonderful young women. You’ve got a great future ahead of you, and I know you’re having and have had a great experience here. I can see the care and, indeed, the love, in the faces of your principal and your teachers and those who are guiding you. And so you’re very, very lucky to be in a place where education and faith and reason are all together. You’ve got a great life ahead of you. Just don’t let anybody put limits on it because you’re a woman or because you are from some particular ethnic group or because you’re Aboriginal or whatever you are. What you want to be and who you’re going to be is really up to you.
MS. BARBER: Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you, Madame Secretary. While we have you as a captive audience, would you mind if we had a few questions?
SECRETARY RICE: I’d be delighted.
MS. BARBER: And Minister Smith, you’re not off the hook either. We’ll be asking you a few too.
FOREIGN MINISTER SMITH: I don’t think anyone’s asking me any questions. (Laughter.)
MS. BARBER: Adeal, would you like to lead off with a few questions?
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, what do you actually do day-to-day as Secretary of State?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Well, the Secretary of State, like your Foreign Minister, is the chief diplomat for the United States of America. So I represent the United States in all matters of foreign affairs.
On any given day, I will start my day at 4:30 in the morning so that I can exercise. You have to be sure you find time to exercise and take care of yourself. And then I get into the office at about 6:30 or so, and I read the morning newspapers to see what’s happened overnight. Some people come in and they brief me about what’s going on in the world.
And my day is a combination of having meetings and discussions within the United States Government about what U.S. policy is going to be, so perhaps I’ll meet with the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of the Treasury, with whom I spend a lot of time, or the United States Trade Representative, and there will be a question: Well, what should be the agenda when you meet with the Foreign Minister of Australia? And so we’ll have a discussion.
The rest of my time is spent meeting foreign leaders when they come to the United States. And just, for instance, on Monday when I get back, the Prime Minister of Pakistan is coming and I’ll meet with him. The next day, the Defense Minister of Israel is coming. And then the next day, the negotiators for Israel and Palestinian -- the Palestinian Authority are coming so I can help them try to find a way toward Palestinian-Israeli peace, and the establishment of a two-state solution.
Now, that’s about, I would say, 50 percent of my time. I spend about 50 percent of my time in some other country, Australia or Germany or Latin America. So those are the kinds of things I do. (Applause.)
MS. BARBER: Marisa?
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, what is the main challenge you have faced as a woman in your work as a U.S. Secretary of State?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, at this stage in life, I don’t think that I face particular challenges because I’m a woman. I think at a certain point -- and you will get to that point – I’m Secretary of State and that’s what matters. And the challenges that I face are because I’m Secretary of State.
And I try very hard to give other people the benefit of the doubt, right? Now, I’m black and I’m female. And I’ve been black and female all my life. (Laughter.) So when I walk into a room, I try not to think, wow, is that person looking at me strangely because I’m black and female? Or is it because I’m black? Or is it because I’m female? I think, maybe they’re looking at me strangely because, I don’t know, maybe my hair is a little bit askew, or something like that. So I think the first thing is, try not to think too much about whether the challenges are coming at you because of gender or race. They may be coming at you simply because it’s a particular challenge. You may have a difficult interaction with somebody just because you have a difficult interaction.
Now, it’s absolutely true that there are still prejudices against minorities and prejudices against women. And it’s most often that people will underestimate your capabilities because you are a female or you are a minority. And the best way to deal with that is, just don’t let them underestimate you. Be prepared, be tough, be prepared to take on whatever questions come at you. And you’ll find that sooner or later, it won’t matter that much.
MS. BARBER: Thank you. (Applause.) Melissa, I think you have a question for Minister Smith, actually, so --
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, good.
FOREIGN MINISTER SMITH: Here’s trouble.
MS. BARBER: Yeah.
SECRETARY RICE: All right. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Mr. Smith, what is different for you now as far as the Foreign Minister, compared to your role in The Opposition?
FOREIGN MINISTER SMITH: Well, when I was in Opposition, I had a bit of opportunity to be Maddie’s dad, and now I have not much. (Laughter.)
There are three, sort of, parts of my life now. Minister for Foreign Affairs, Member for Perth, and then what you do, you know, in your family. So I’m here in three capacities: Minister for Foreign Affairs, Local Member, and Maddie’s dad, which is what most of the girls describe me as. (Laughter.)
But Madame Secretary and I were discussing this in the car on the way here, is that because of the offices that we occupy -- not because of us as individuals, but because of the offices we occupy, our lives are not our own. There is so much that we have to do to discharge obligations in the name of our nation. And so when I go overseas, 95 percent of what I do overseas is already determined: programs determined, meetings determined, you’re representing your nation and discharging it. So sometimes I say to friends and colleagues I live in a parallel universe, because you’re so focused and guided by the obligations to your nation and the obligations of the day.
It’s also -- and this is one of the joys of the job. I mean, I have this adage now of work hard, try and do good deeds, but also have fun. But one of the necessities of the job is its unrelenting nature. There is always something that you have to do; always some decision that you have to make. And so at 10 o’clock at night, if you’re overseas, your staff and your ambassador or high commission will say, Minister, there’s nothing more that you need to do, there’s no more decisions you need to make. And then at 6 o’clock in the morning or at 11 o’clock at night, someone will knock on your door and say, Minister, there actually is a decision that you need to make.
So there is an unrelenting aspect to it. That’s part of the joy of the job, because you’re always trying to make good decisions on behalf of your nation. But your life, in that sense, is not your own, not as it used to be before that obligation was given to me. But it’s terrific fun. You’re away from home a lot, so that has its – you know, it brings its own, sort of, difficulties. But you only do these jobs for a limited period. The Secretary of State has a maximum of eight years, effectively two four-year terms. And we’ve seen now the expiration of the second term of the current United States Administration.
In Australia, you don’t know whether the job will last for a day, a year, or a decade, which is one of the reasons I say to myself, while I’m doing the job, work hard, do good deeds, have fun. (Applause.)
MS. BARBER: Now, Madame Secretary, you realize that you are in a majority female audience here, so this next question is really important. Patrice?
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, when do you get to go shopping? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I love to shop. And I come by it honestly, because when I was five or six years old, some of the first things I can remember doing with my mother -- my father, as I said, was a minister, so he would go to the church on Saturday to work on his sermon, and my mother and I would head for the stores. And I loved to shop.
Now I don’t have as much time. As a matter of fact, I have almost no time to shop. And sometimes people will -- my friends will shop for me. They’ll say, oh, I saw this great dress, and I think you should get it. So I have a lot of -- kind of a network of people out there who shop for me. (Laughter.) But I’m looking forward to getting back to shopping, you know. There’s a shopping mall about five minutes from my house at Stanford, and it’s kind of unfortunate, because if there’s a shopping mall that close to your house, it’s too easy to get to it.
So I don’t have nearly as much time. But it’s a great pastime, shopping. I love it. Even if I don’t buy anything, I love to just go in the stores and look.
QUESTION: Thank you. (Applause.)
MS. BARBER: Charlotte, would you like to come forward and ask your question?
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, what do you like to do when you go on vacation?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I like to go on vacation and be very active. I’ve never been somebody who can sort of sit on the beach and do nothing. I get bored really quickly. So when I used to have time to vacation -- now I don’t have much time to vacation -- but I would take one week and go to tennis camp, and practice my tennis game really hard, and then one week to go to chamber music camp, where I would play with a string quartet. And we would meet and we’d play music eight, nine hours a day and then go to concerts in the evening. And that’s what I really love doing.
And I still try to play the piano a couple of times a week, and I still play with a chamber music group about once a month. So when I go back and have a chance to be on vacation, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll probably go to -- and the United States has a lot of great chamber music camps in different parts of the country, usually in really beautiful, mountainous areas. I love the mountains. I’m more of a mountain person than a water person. So if I can get to the mountains and play Brahms, that’s probably my favorite vacation. (Applause.)
FOREIGN MINISTER SMITH: I know Charlotte. And Charlotte’s been on a holiday with us. Charlotte’s definitely a water person. (Laughter.)
MS. BARBER: Nikki, you have another question for Minister Smith, I think.
QUESTION: Mr. Smith, what is your most memorable achievement so far as Foreign Minister?
FOREIGN MINISTER SMITH: Well, it’s hard to judge. One of the -- I never expected to become Foreign Minister. I thought I was going to be Minister for Education, so I had all these things worked out in my mind as how to make improvements in education. And in fact, the first conversation that the Secretary and I had when I first became Foreign Minister -- we spoke as much about the power of education as we did about foreign policy.
And I might just quickly digress. If you’ve ever asked me the question, why did I want to bring the Secretary of State here to Mercedes, it was to reinforce two things: the power of education and the power of equality. And if you had the chance for education and you live in a society where people treat everyone as equals, anything is possible for you individually. And the Secretary -- 25 years ago, 30 years ago, no one could have possibly envisaged in the United States that it’s been nearly 12 years since we last saw a white male Secretary of State, so that just shows you what -- how you can transform societies with the power of education and the power of equality.
One of the things that I have not so much struggled with, had difficulty with -- one of the things that is difficult in foreign policy is that it’s like moving incremental plates. You know, the relations between nations, like the relations between people, just instead of dealing with one person, you’re dealing with millions. And so the actual achievements, you get incrementally. And they’re difficult to see. Occasionally, you have the chance to do something which, if you weren’t there, wouldn’t have occurred. And in one of my predecessor’s case, Gareth Evans, for example, it’s generally acknowledged that without Gareth Evans, there would not have been a peace process and a peace settlement in Cambodia. And so that’s regarded as an achievement by him.
I’ve been here six months, so I can’t describe something of that nature. I think until today, the best thing I’ve done in terms of a good thing to do for Australia’s foreign policy approach and our relations with other neighbors was to bring the Indonesian Foreign Secretary, the Indonesian Foreign Minister to the modern day successor of my own school, take him into a class of Year 10 boys and girls, and they spent half an hour speaking Indonesian to him, because it was an Indonesian language class. And there was an Indonesian TV camera in the room, and beamed that back to Indonesian TV. That’s the best publicity Australia has had in terms of its relationship with Indonesia for a considerable period of time.
And the reason I did that is because when I was Indonesia, I discovered that Australia was building or repairing 2,000 Indonesian high schools as part of our development assistance. And you can have good relations between ministers, good relations between governments, good relations between nations; but the thing that really, in the end, brings a firm partnership and friendship between nations is what we call the people-to-people exchanges. And in people-to-people exchanges, there’s nothing, in my view, and I’m sure the Secretary shares it -- there’s nothing more powerful to build people-to-people exchanges than education.
So young -- historically, one of the best things Australia did was what we used to call the Colombo Plan, where we got young students from Southeast Asia coming to Australia to study in the ‘50s and ‘60s and ’70s. Now we do that through scholarships and through encouraging young students from other nations to come to Australia. When they go back to their own countries, they’re ambassadors for Australia for life. What we’re now trying to do is to encourage young students to go to countries in our region and study, to learn their languages, to appreciate their culture more, so that they can become ambassadors for us in those countries, but also become ambassadors for those countries when they come back to Australia.
So it’s a very small thing, but it just, to me, crystallized and underlined how our relationship with Indonesia, which from times has been problematic, really now has become a first-class relationship. And the relationship I have with Foreign Minister Wirajuda is personally very strong. And what is often a difficult relationship just because you're neighbors is now probably in the best state that we’ve seen it historically. And that’s very important for Australia. So it’s a small thing, but to me it was quite memorable. And it was widely appreciated in Indonesia, because they said to themselves, well, here we have young Australians actually wanting to understand our language, understand our culture, and genuinely take an interest in it.
SECRETARY RICE: Can I just add on exactly that point? Because one thing that I would encourage you all to do is study a foreign language and go to another country. And you never know what -- you know, for me, it was Russian. My mother tried desperately -- I had nine years of French. I was dragged off to French lessons when I was nine years old, and it never really stuck. I can understand French, I can read French, but I could never speak it.
The first time I heard the Russian language, it was like falling in love. And Russian has always been, for me, a language that just resonates with me. And so learning another language and knowing other cultures is really important. And Australia, like the United States, is continental size. And so you can go a long time and never really learn anybody else’s language. But it’s important to do that. And I hope when you go off to college -- I know you’re studying languages here. I think French, Italian perhaps?
MS. BARBER: Yes.
SECRETARY RICE: But when you go off to college, I really hope you do that.
And I wanted to just comment on something else that Stephen said in response to the question. You know, really, it takes a long time for change to come in the international system. And it is happening imperceptibly for a long time, and then all of it seems to come together. And the last time I was in government, I was the White House Soviet Specialist at the end of the Cold War. And it really doesn’t get much better than that. I got to be a part of the liberation of Eastern Europe and the unification of Germany and the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union. But in fact, those were policies that the United States had been undertaking for more than 40 years that finally came to fruition.
So sometimes in jobs like Stephen and I have, really, what you’re doing is you’re laying groundwork and foundations and building relationships and working on relationships that may not come to fruition and may not really blossom and prosper for many, many years to come. But if I can be very pleased about one thing, it’s that I think that both Australia and the United States have always stood for one important principle, and that is that we’re very lucky to be free people. We’re lucky to live in democracies.
And we don’t really believe that anybody should have to live in tyranny. And so when I look at people around the world who no longer live in tyranny, whether it’s in struggling places like Afghanistan or Iraq, or in Eastern Europe, where they finally are liberated from communism, it’s heartening to know that countries like Australia and the United States have stood with people like that so that they no longer have to live in tyranny. Nobody should have to live in a dictatorship, nobody.
MS. BARBER: Thank you. (Applause.)
MS. BARBER: Jordana, I believe you have another really important question for Dr. Rice.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, what is George Bush like as a boss? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: Well, he’s a great boss, because he’s got a great sense of humor. He’s really -- we have the same sense of humor. It’s really important to be able to laugh with somebody, you know. If you -- probably among you, you have friends and you think one of the things that keeps you going is that you can laugh at yourself and you can laugh at absurd situations. And the President has a very good sense of humor. And we’ve known each other a long time. I started working with him at the end of 1998 when he decided he was going to run for President. And he was finally elected in 2000, and I’ve now been with him for all that time.
The other thing is that I think he believes very strongly in certain principles, and that’s important. You know, power is -- can be corrupting if you don’t have a firm foundation of what you’re trying to do and believe in who you are. And if you’re President of the United States, you have to want America to stand for something. And the President does.
The other thing is I have a great relationship with his family. The President has two terrific daughters, of whom he’s enormously proud. Jenna just got married. Maybe some of you saw that. And Barbara lives in New York. But one thing that I love about the President and the First Lady is that when you go to some social event with them, they have friends from the time that they were in grade school, people who went to middle school with them, or people that they knew in college.
And as you get older in life, you realize that if you have no friends from other times in your life, something’s wrong. People who have friends for a long, long time, people who have friends who have known them when they weren’t famous, those are people who are firmly grounded and who have a good set of core values. And so one lesson that I’ve taken from the President and the First Lady is to make sure that I nurture my friendships from a long, long time ago. (Applause.)
MS. BARBER: Now you would probably expect the next question to be asked of you, but in actual effect, we’re going to ask a male perspective on this one. So Hannah, would you like to come forward and ask your question.
FOREIGN MINISTER SMITH: I was supposed to be sitting it out, right? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: And Mr. Smith, what advice do you have for young women considering a career in politics?
FOREIGN MINISTER SMITH: Well, I’d listen to the advice that the Secretary of State gave, which is, one, it has to be your passion. The great joy of my life is that I’m doing the only thing I ever wanted to do. For as long as I can remember, all I wanted to be was a Member of Parliament. I was only interested in current affairs, in politics, in history, and because I grew up in Western Australia in, sort of, the ‘60s and ‘70s, the focus was almost exclusively on state matters, on what was happening in WA. So it took me a while to work out what I call the jurisdictional choices.
But the great joy of my life is that I’m doing the only thing I ever really wanted to do. And – but what I did first was to make sure that I had a good grounding in that. So I finished school and went to UWA, went to the University of Western Australia, and I studied law, not because I was – ever wanted to be a lawyer for a long period of time, but I thought it was a good discipline, a good grounding, and a thing that could give you a good basis for analysis and doing what I ultimately wanted to do. And there’s no doubt that in my own case, that’s been a considerable, considerable advantage.
If you’re a young woman who is interested in politics, you should do what any young woman in Australian society should do. The first thing you have to do is finish Year 12. There’s a killer statistic in Australian education. If you finish Year 12, then you double your chance of going on for a further qualification of any description, type, university, whatever it is. And secondly, you double your chances of being in gainful employment for the rest of your adult working life.
So if you’re interested in politics, I’d do a couple of things. One, I’d finish Year 12. Two, I’d get a bit of life experience before I plunged in. I’ve always thought that the best time to go into a parliament is sometime between 35 and 40. Why is that? At 35 to 40, you’ve had a bit of life experience. Generally, you’ve had a couple of jobs. Generally, you’ve got family and community attachments. And if it works out, then you can do it, you know, for a decade or a decade and a half, and at sort of, you know, 55, 60, you can think about finishing up and then still having time for another career, another role. And if it doesn’t work out at 35 to 40, well, then these things happen and you move on and do other things.
So if I was interested in that, I’d, one, finish Year 12, two, I’d do something else just to give myself a bit of life experience, but three, I’d also always have this in mind: Public life, politics, whether it’s Australia, the United States, the only certain thing about our noble profession -- and I’m old fashioned, it is a noble profession – trying to do public good – do good deeds in the public interest – the only certain thing about our noble profession is its uncertainty. You never quite know when events might change.
And there are events over which you often don’t have any control; you lose your seat because your party loses an election, and you never get the chance. So one of the things that I’ve always found very important is, you’ve got to be firmly grounded, you know, in your own community. You’ve got to – I think the people who are best at public life are the people who, if they stop doing it tomorrow, life would just go on. Sure, there would be disappointment in not continuing to do it, but I think the most important attribute for doing well in public life is having reference point, having axes that revolve around your own community.
And in my case, that’s always been turning up on a Saturday or Sunday morning, watching kids sport, having my ear bashed by the parents who say you’ve done this wrong, you’ve done that wrong, et cetera. It keeps you genuinely in touch, but it also keeps you real, so that if for some reason, it finishes tomorrow, there’s still a life that goes on. (Applause.)
SECRETARY RICE: Stephen, you do realize that if you’re sitting out there, 35 or 40 seems like many, many, many years from now. (Laughter.) Yeah?
FOREIGN MINISTER SMITH: I know.
SECRETARY RICE: Trust me, it’s not. (Laughter.) Comes faster than you think.
FOREIGN MINISTER SMITH: But it – the thing that – I go to a lot of high school graduations, so I see the – you know, the young men, the young women in year 12 now, so they’re 16, 17. They’re like me and my mates were when we were at 26, 27. So there’s modern communications; the modern world has accelerated the aging process. But I still think that if you want to go into politics, do something else first just to give you a few reference points.
MS. BARBER: And we have to remember 50 is the new 40, so we’re doing pretty well.
SECRETARY RICE: Absolutely, I’m there. (Laughter.)
FOREIGN MINISTER SMITH: Well, the other great change in Australian post-World War II society is that we’ve extended life expectancy to 80 for men and 82 for women. So there is – girls, there is plenty of time left. (Laughter.)
MS. BARBER: Chantel, would you like to come forward and ask a question?
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, where is home for you and how often do you get to go there?
SECRETARY RICE: Where is – I’m sorry?
FOREIGN MINISTER SMITH: Home, home.
QUESTION: Where is home?
SECRETARY RICE: Home for me, well, it’s a – kind of a complicated question. I was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and a lot of my family is still in the South. My parents and I were transports to Denver, Colorado when I was 12 years old. But I moved to Northern California, to Stanford University, where really, I now consider home, in 1981, which I now realize is well before any of you were born, but that’s all right. It’s – (Laughter.) So I’ve lived in Stanford – at Stanford and it’s Northern California – it’s right near San Francisco – for a lot of years. I really consider it home. I don’t get back very often, because it’s a long way from Washington to California. It’s been about once a year since I’ve been in Washington.
But the President of the United States – a new President of the United States will be inaugurated at noon on January the 20th, and shortly thereafter, I’ll go back to California, because I love the Western United States and I really consider it home now. (Applause.)
MS. BARBER: And we probably only have time for one more question, but I know Danielle was really keen to ask this one, so I’m glad we’ve had time for it.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, would you ever consider running for president? And what would you see as the major hurdles to overcome if you were to run?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the major hurdle to overcome is I’ve never run for anything. I didn’t actually – I was just asking Lucy how one becomes head girl and I understand you run for it. I never ran for head girl, Lucy, so – no, I’m really not somebody who is likely to be in political life as an elected official.
I admire colleagues and friends who do want to run for office. In fact, democracy depends on having good and honorable and decent people who are willing and able to submit themselves to the test of electoral politics, and then, having gotten the mandate of the people, go on to remember where that mandate comes from. Because I think one of the dangers sometimes of being in politics is that you can lose sight of the fact that it’s quite a temporary mandate, you know? It’s only something that’s there by the will of the people as long as the people will it.
So I think it’s a terrific system. There’s certainly nothing better. But it’s not quite for me. I’ve been very lucky. And in the United States, we have a system that’s quite different than your system in Australia, which is that our ministers, our secretaries, tend – do not come from elected office. Most often, they – my – I come out of academia. My colleague, the Secretary of Treasury, came – was a Wall Street – chairman of Goldman Sachs in Wall Street. The Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates, was a longtime civil servant who then left and became a university president and came back.
So we come from different backgrounds rather than coming through the parliamentary system and being a part of the party apparatus. So we have a very – it’s fortunate that you can go in and do your public service and then return to whatever you came from. And deep in my soul, deep in my being, I’m an academic. I love the world of ideas. I love writing. I love teaching, especially. I miss teaching. I care deeply about education because – and Stephen and I – as he said, we connected on this point.
I think education is important for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, because in a democratic society, particularly one that is multiethnic, and like our societies are, people really have to believe, and it has to be true, that it doesn’t matter where you came from; it matters where you’re going. It really has to be true that the circumstances of your birth are not determinative in how you’re going to end up. And the only way to equalize different circumstances of birth is through education. And so it’s critical to the proper functioning of multiethnic democracies that people be educated.
Secondly, if you don’t have an educated population, the society just stagnates. One issue that I’ve been very interested in since I’ve been Secretary of State is women’s empowerment around the world. You know, before Afghanistan – the Taliban was thrown out of power in Afghanistan, they would not allow women to be taught how to read. They wouldn’t let women go to school. And the reason was very obvious. This was because it kept them in their place. If you don’t know how to read, if you’re not educated, then you’re not going to aspire to very much. And you can be controlled and you can be – no, you can’t challenge anything. And so women were not allowed to read and be educated.
So one of the things that we’ve worked very hard on is girls’ education around the world and women’s education around the world, because as much as I believe that women’s empowerment is about running for political office and all of those things, women’s empowerment first begins with educating women. So I’m a big believer in the power of education, and when I leave, I’ll go back. The United States has a lot of problems in our own educational system, a lot of problems in our public schools, and those are some of the issues that I really want to work on. And I’ll leave elected politics to my friends like Stephen. (Laughter.) (Applause.)
MS. BARBER: Thank you both. As you would have already heard, Dr. Rice is an accomplished pianist and, as often happens, though, plans do change and our lives often take very different directions. But when thinking of what gifts to give you, Madame Secretary, the obvious choice was the gift of a song. So I would like to present to you, on behalf of the whole college community, 12 of our very talented young women, and their conductor, Mrs. Claire Gamlin.
(Song was performed.) (Applause.)
SECRETARY RICE: That was beautiful. That’s my – one of my favorite songs, so thank you.
MS. BARBER: I would now like to call forward our Head Girl, Lucy Fitzsummons, to present you with a copy of a book, Madame Secretary. The book is actually the story of Mercedes College. It’s called Out Of These Stones. And of course, our history dates from 1846 through to – the book covers the period, 1846 to 1996. But as you’d be aware, we are very proud of our heritage and the future that we are all creating as we walk in the footsteps of the Sisters of Mercy. And we’re very fortunate also that while many of our sisters have moved into other ministries, there are many of them here this morning to join us, so it’s wonderful to have them with us too. So Mercedes is the oldest existing secondary school in Western Australia, and we certainly hope you enjoy reading our history. (Applause.)
So on behalf of the students and the staff at Mercedes College, I would like to thank you sincerely for taking time out from your busy schedule to visit with us. We’ve been truly blessed. And we thank you too, Minister Smith, for including us in Dr. Rice’s itinerary. We just wish we would have had more time, and I don’t think there would be any person in this room who wouldn’t wish that they were sitting opposite you in a comfortable chair with a cup of coffee having a chat. And just the little time that we’ve had to spend with you this morning, I get the feeling that you’d like nothing better than that too. So thank you.
Staff and students, would you please stand as our guests leave and please show your appreciation to Dr. Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State, and of course, Minister Smith. (Applause.)
Released on July 25, 2008