Interview With Girl Scout MagazineSecretary Condoleezza Rice
September 12, 2008
QUESTION: On behalf of Girl Scouts, we’re so thrilled to have you do this. It’s a wonderful honor, and we couldn’t be more excited. The girls would like to tell you a little about themselves, where they go to school, and what they want to be when they grow up.
SECRETARY RICE: Terrific.
QUESTION: I’m Jasmine. I’m 17 years old, and I go to Holton Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland. I just completed my Girl Scout Gold Award, which is the highest honor you can win, so I’m really proud of it.
SECRETARY RICE: Congratulations.
QUESTION: Thank you. And I’m also a figure skater.
SECRETARY RICE: Are you really?
SECRETARY RICE: So what jumps are you working on?
QUESTION: Right – I’m still working on my axel.
SECRETARY RICE: Very good.
QUESTION: Been working on it for a while now.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, I know how that is. One and a half is a lot, isn’t it?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. That’s right.
SECRETARY RICE: Good for you. Great.
QUESTION: My name is Anabelle and I’m ten years old. I go to (inaudible) Elementary, and I want to be an investigative journalist.
SECRETARY RICE: My goodness. Do you like to write?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, that’s the most important thing for being a good journalist is to like to write. Great.
QUESTION: I’m Katie. I’m 17. I go to Park View High School in Sterling. And I want to be a marine biologist when I graduate.
SECRETARY RICE: You like science?
QUESTION: Love it. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: Great.
QUESTION: Hi, I’m Colette. I’m eight years old. I go to Sanders Corner Elementary School, and I play piano.
SECRETARY RICE: You do? That’s great.
QUESTION: And I want to be – I want to work at a zoo when I grow up.
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, well, bless your heart. Well, you’ll have to play piano a lot better than I did, ultimately. So tell me, what kind of piano do you play? What are you playing now?
QUESTION: Right now, I’m – well, right now, I’m in – I’m doing a lot of – I’m doing a lot of pages in my performance book.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, good. So do you practice scales and things like that? That’s great. Good for you. Wonderful futures ahead.
QUESTION: Oh, very much so. Anabelle has a question for you.
SECRETARY RICE: All right, Anabelle.
QUESTION: When you were a child, did you ever imagine yourself as being a world leader?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, absolutely not. When I was a child, I wanted to be a musician. That’s what I wanted to be, was a concert pianist. But it just shows that life takes really big changes and so you have to be open. You have to try a lot of things that you might like. And you never know quite what you might end up doing.
But I’ve been very happy doing international politics, and it’s been really great being Secretary of State.
QUESTION: Being a woman in your position, what would you suggest to young women?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the first thing I’d suggest is that you find something that you love to do, because I didn’t start out saying I was going to be Secretary of State. I started out saying, “What do I really love to do?” And I loved international politics, and I loved languages and foreign countries. And so I pursued that.
So you have to find your passion. At some point, and especially you two, who will soon be going off to college, what I would say is that when you go to college, try a lot of things. Try some things that are hard for you, as well as things that are easy. If science is easy for you, then try courses in literature and languages. And then you can get the whole range of possibilities in front of you. So you have to love what you’re doing. And that doesn’t matter whether you’re a woman or a man. You have to love what you’re doing.
QUESTION: I understand that you grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, in the late 1950s. And I’m sure, as you know, it’s a period of incredible social unrest. And given your experience at that time, how – do you think it’s possible for democracy to thrive when, clearly, a large portion of society doesn’t wish to be democratic?
SECRETARY RICE: That’s a very good question. Now, it wasn’t just the ’50’s; it was also the ’60’s. I really grew up in the ’60’s. Let’s just get the decade right. (Laughter.)
But yes, I do think it’s possible. Because despite the fact that people may not always express their desire for democracy, which is, in many ways, a word that, perhaps, needs more definition, if you ask people, do you want to be able to say what you think, do you want to be able to educate your girls and your boys, do you want to be able to worship as you please, do you want to have a say in who is going to govern you and not just be told what to do, then most people will say yes. And those are the essentials of democracy.
So sometimes, what’s important is to decode this word democracy, and to say what it really means for people. And what it means is – it means being able to control your own destiny. And most human beings really do want that.
But your point about Birmingham – what Birmingham convinced me of is that if we can come through as a great democracy, the United States – first slavery and then something – the segregation of the South, and end up with a circumstance in which the last two Secretaries of State have been black, that says something about the greatness of our country. But it also says what’s possible for people who haven’t yet had a chance to experience democracy. I’m a great believer in giving people freedom and liberty, and they’ll do the rest.
QUESTION: How many days a week do you play the piano?
SECRETARY RICE: Not enough these days. Now I play maybe twice a week, because I work very long hours and I travel a lot. But I try to play every Saturday and every Sunday. And then on Sunday afternoons, about once a month, I play with a group of string quartet players. So two violinists and a violist and a cellist, and we get together at my house and we play chamber music. So I’m very glad, and I want to tell you this especially because you like playing the piano now – and you’re eight, is that right?
Well, when I was ten, I decided – I started playing piano when I was about three. And when I was ten, I decided I didn’t want to play anymore because I didn’t like practicing and I was tired of it. And my mother said, “You’re not old enough or good enough to make that decision.” (Laughter.) And I thought, well, what does she mean?
Well, you know what? She was right, because I kept playing. I majored in music for a while. And obviously, I didn’t become a pianist, but it is a great joy to me now that I can sit down and play the piano and enjoy it with other musicians and play at a high level.
So the one thing I would say about the hobbies that you have, even if you don’t become an Olympic figure skater, even if you don’t become a concert musician, work until you have something that you can do for life. Because it’s a great way to have hobbies and things that are pleasurable to you and that can broaden your life, because whatever work you do will be really important, but it’ll also be important to have things that you do that aren’t work.
QUESTION: The Girl Scout mission statement is building girls’ courage, confidence and character to make the world a better place. Where did you learn these characteristics – these traits?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I learned them, I believe, from the people around me: my parents, who were extraordinary people and gave me amazing opportunities even in segregated Birmingham. I had grandparents to whom I was very close who also had made unbelievable strides. And then teachers; I had a lot of terrific teachers when I was in school who believed that I could do anything, and who taught me that – you know, we talk about, kind of, heroes, but really, in America, if you look back on the people who have made the biggest difference in America, it’s really people like Rosa Parks, you know, from the Civil Rights movement. Just ordinary people who had the courage to stand up, or people who do good service work and go and run soup kitchens or tutor children who might not have another opportunity. Those are the real heroes in our society, because they’re the people who, as individuals, have decided: This isn’t right and I’m going to change it. And I think we do much more through our individual citizens than the government could ever do.
QUESTION: Anabelle has another question for you.
QUESTION: How do you feel after a day of work? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I go to bed early. Can I tell you that little secret? I believe very much at the end of my day – very often I have to go to a dinner or something after work, because I meet with people during the day, but I also meet with people at dinners and the like. But I’m pretty tired at the end of the day, so I try to go home and maybe watch a little television. But I am a great believer in getting enough sleep, so I want to make sure all of you girls are getting enough sleep, all right?
QUESTION: Now, Secretary Rice, I need to ask you a question.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Because all of us were amazed to hear that – is it true that you wake up at 4:00 a.m.?
SECRETARY RICE: 4:30.
QUESTION: 4:30? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: 4:30. Yeah, it is true, because the other thing is I get up and I exercise.
QUESTION: Good for you.
SECRETARY RICE: And – but because I get up at 4:30, I try to go to bed by about 10 o’clock, so I try not to be tired. You know, if you don’t get enough sleep, you’re just tired and you’re not very effective. So – and I know how it can be, especially when you two go off to college, there are going to be people burning the candles at both ends. Don’t do that. Get enough sleep.
Somebody else have another question?
QUESTION: As Secretary of State, what is the most important part of your job?
SECRETARY RICE: The most important part of my job is representing this great country. I love America. I really love America, because America really is a place that believes that people can be anything that they want to be. You don’t have to be born into a particular class of people, you don’t have to be the children of nobility or whatever. And I’m a great believer that the fact that we are Americans not by blood or religious belief, but because we all have a common set of beliefs, is such a great lesson to the world.
And it also matters that we haven’t done it perfectly. It matters that we started out with my predecessor many times over, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the great words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, but who was a slave owner.
And so I say to people, America hasn’t always gotten it right, but we’ve kept striving and striving. So you can go out and represent this country from a willingness to talk about its values and defend its values, but also from humility. So the best part of my job is representing America.
QUESTION: Jasmine has a good one.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Working in such a chaotic environment, how do you reconcile public opinion and party unity, while still staying true to yourself in what you believe in?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. Well, you have to start to be true to yourself. If you don’t believe it, don’t say it. And it’s that simple. It’s – it doesn’t mean you have to tell people everything you’re thinking. That would be really crazy. (Laughter.) But it does mean that you should never, I think, say something that you know to be untrue. And you should never ask anybody to – who works for you or from another government to say something that you know is untrue, because ultimately you have to be able to look yourself in the eye. And I’m a religious person and I believe ultimately you also have to be able to answer to your God at some point.
So there are ways to reconcile differences and to be honest about differences. There is a tendency in Washington for people to go out and say what – not just what they thought, but what everybody else thought. One thing that I try not to do is to say what other people thought. So when I talk to the press, I hope that most times they’ll find that I’m talking about what I said, about what I did in the meeting, not what somebody else did. But I don’t think you can ever be in a position of saying something that you believe to be untrue or that you know is untrue.
QUESTION: What do you like to do in your spare time?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, what little of it there is – I like sports. So I don’t figure skate anymore, because you should only do that until you’re about 30. (Laughter.) I love – golf is my new passion. I just started playing golf about three years ago. So if I have any time, I go out and play golf. I used to play tennis a lot, but now that I learned golf I don’t play tennis anymore. And then I play the piano. Those are the things I love to do. I love to watch football on TV. I love to watch basketball on TV.
And I try to make time to make sure I keep up with my family and friends. And I have a very close-knit family. It’s very small; I’m an only child. And my parents are deceased, unfortunately, but I’m very close to my cousins and uncles and aunts. And you can be sure that if they haven’t heard from me in a while, they’ll call and say, “Where have you been?” So I try to make sure I call before they call me. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: One more question?
QUESTION: What are the most important qualities in being a leader?
SECRETARY RICE: The most important qualities in being a leader are to have a strong sense of values and integrity, that whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it because you believe it’s right, to not just try to do the easy thing. It’s – if everybody just did the easy thing, nothing would ever progress.
I also think it’s really important, and it goes back to something that I said, but – you should never ask somebody who works for you to do something that you yourself would not do. And if you remind yourself of that all the time, then I think people recognize it and appreciate it.
And some people say, well, you have to be inspirational. But I think inspiration comes not from you giving great speeches or so forth, but from drawing out the best in people who work for you and around you. And I’ve had to learn how to do that a couple times. It’s something – my tendency is that if I – it used to be that if I wanted it done, I’d go do it myself. Well, you don’t really lead people very well by just always assuming you can do it better than they do. They bring certain talents and certain skills that you may not have and you may not recognize. And so giving people space to solve problems the way they would solve them, not the way you would solve them, is, I think, one of the hardest lessons in leadership.
QUESTION: Jasmine has a kind of tough question for you.
QUESTION: It’s a little long-winded.
SECRETARY RICE: All right. That’s all right.
QUESTION: Christine Lagarde, which I’m sure, as you know, is the French Minister of Finance, spoke to our school last year. And she’s also a Holton graduate. She spoke about the importance of creating a network amongst female leaders, much like the old boy network. I was wondering how you try to further that community. And how important do you think it is?
SECRETARY RICE: I think it’s very important. The one thing you should never let people tell you is that, well, it’s not a good thing to draw on contacts or to have people. It is important. Everybody needs to draw on people that they know. There’s nothing wrong with calling somebody who might know somebody who might know somebody who can help you. There’s nothing wrong with that. And so it’s – it is good to have networks.
And I’ve actually gotten together with other female foreign ministers and a few female leaders around the world, and we actually have a women’s foreign policy network. And we’re going to meet for the third time in – at the United Nations General Assembly in September.
And we do several things. We try to encourage young women to become interested in foreign affairs, to become – in countries where women are not really well represented in political processes, to become engaged in politics. We try to encourage business leaders to engage young women and help bring them up through the system. We also do work on foreign policy issues of concern to women. For instance, we have recently been working on women and violence in warfare, the fact that violence against women is sometimes used as a tool of war, and we’ve tried to focus the United Nations on that problem; on access of women to justice and to courts and to legal counsel. So we’ve taken that up as a cause.
Because this is a pretty powerful group of women. I think there’s several women leaders now: the President of Chile; the president of – the Chancellor of Germany; the President of Liberia; the President of Argentina. And if you put that together with the fact that you’ve got a lot of women foreign ministers, we think it’s become an important network for addressing these issues and for saying to young girls, “You can do this too.”
QUESTION: We have one more from Colette.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, Colette.
QUESTION: What is your favorite color?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, well, that’s interesting. I love navy blue. I love navy blue. But when I want to feel really on top of things, I wear red. (Laughter.) I wear red because my mother told me once – and this is the thing with age again – when I was younger, I liked to wear pretty muted colors. And my mother said, “When you get to be 35, all of a sudden you’re going to want to wear red.” I had no idea what she meant, but she was right. So when I want to feel really on top of things, I wear red.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Secretary Rice.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure to meet you all.
QUESTION: It was wonderful.
SECRETARY RICE: Great. You all are great. Good luck.
Released on October 21, 2008