She advised his father as the Cold War melted into the new world order. And as a trusted member of President George W. Bush's innermost circle, she served as a loyal national security adviser during his first term in office.
Condoleezza Rice -- an accomplished academic, former provost of Stanford University and concert-level pianist -- was confirmed as the nation's 66th secretary of state by a vote of 85 to 13 on Jan. 26, 2005.
After nine hours over two days of sometimes fiery debate, the Senate officially made Rice the second woman to hold the post, which is four steps from the presidency in the Constitutional line of succession. The Alabama native and Stanford provost will also be the first black woman to hold the position of secretary of state. Madeleine Albright was the first female secretary of state, under President Clinton.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee reported the Rice nomination favorably to the full Senate by a vote of 16-2 with former Democratic presidential contender Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., voting against her. In the full Senate, opposition to Rice gathered steam with the 13 Democrats opposing the president's first-term national security adviser. No Republicans opposed the confirmation.
Since 1789, only eight nominees to the position of secretary of state have received votes against their confirmation; Rice's Senate confirmation succeeded with the second-largest number of "nay" votes in history, nearly matching the 14 nay votes received by Henry Clay during President John Q. Adams' administration in 1825.
Weeks after his re-election, Bush announced Rice's appointment to replace Colin Powell as the top U.S. diplomat. "The secretary of state is America's face to the world and in Dr. Rice the world will see the strength, grace and decency of our country," he said during a brief ceremony at the White House.
Somewhat stern and conservative, yet fiercely loyal, Rice has spent several weekends with Bush and first lady Laura Bush during some of the most difficult periods of his first term.
A key supporter of the Afghan and Iraq wars, Rice takes on the job at a time when the United States faces widespread international criticism for its foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.
In Iraq, battle-fatigued U.S. troops are fighting an insurgency that appears to get more brutal and intransigent by the day. The administration has faced criticism for using a belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction as a key reason for going to war. No such weapons have been found in Iraq.
The much-touted Road Map to Peace between Israel and the Palestinians is in shambles. And by all accounts, Iran and North Korea, two other nations on Bush's "axis of evil," are capable of -- and probably intent on -- pursuing their nuclear ambitions.
Powell, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and one of the most popular figures in the Bush administration, had reportedly clashed with other members of the president's team regarding the war in Iraq.
Born in 1954 and raised in segregated Birmingham, Ala., Rice was the only child of two educators who instilled in her a strong sense of family and community. Her name is a variation of the Italian musical term "con dolcezza," which is a direction to play "with sweetness." Rice was called Condi by her friends, a nickname that has stuck with her.