Profile: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

Although she lost a kindergarten classmate in 1963 when white supremacists bombed the Black Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Rice has maintained that she felt insulated from the upheaval around her.

"My parents really provided a shield as much as they could against the horrors of Birmingham," she has told reporters.

But looking back at her childhood, Rice has said her parents, the Rev. John Wesley and Angelena Rice, also attempted to instill a sense of justice in their daughter. "At the same time I can remember my parents taking me to watch the [civil rights] marchers -- they wanted us to know the history and to know what was happening."

Unlike Powell, who publicly supports affirmative action, Rice's position on race has frequently come under criticism from prominent black activists. In January 2003, a report in The Washington Post credited Rice with helping to shape the administration's decision to challenge the affirmative action admissions policy at the University of Michigan.

But following an outcry in the black community, Rice released a statement that clarified her position. "I believe that while race-neutral means are preferable, it is appropriate to use race as one factor among others in achieving a diverse student body," she said.

From Rachmaninoff to Russia

In 1967, the family moved to Denver when Rice's father accepted the position of vice chancellor at the University of Denver. She began taking college courses while still in high school, and was well on her way to becoming a concert pianist, when an accident of fate led her to become an expert on the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

"I was saved from a music major by Russia," said Rice years later, claiming she abandoned her music studies after realizing she would end up "teaching 13-year-olds to murder Beethoven."

And so began a search for a major that ended in the classroom of renowned professor Josef Korbel, the Albright's father.

"He gave a lecture on Josef Stalin and the politics was so Byzantine, there was so much intrigue," she said. "I decided I wanted to study the Soviet Union."

A Record of Firsts

Rice went on to pursue her doctorate after graduating with honors from the university at 19.

In 1981, she began teaching at Stanford University. Five years later, a Council on Foreign Relations fellowship brought her to Washington to work on nuclear strategic planning under Adm. William Crowe at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

It was an experience she remembers fondly.

"There were four of us in one little office and it was great," she once recounted. "I gained so much respect for military officers and what they do, and I think I really got an experience that few civilians have."

In 1989, former President Bush's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, helped convince her to leave Stanford again and work for him in Washington. She quickly became one of Bush's most trusted advisers, helping craft policy in the region she had studied for so many years.

When Texas Gov. George W. Bush declared his candidacy for the 2000 presidential race, Rice served as his chief adviser on foreign-policy issues. She also served as one of the 10 members on his hand-picked Presidential Exploratory Committee.

Behind the President

But it was during her four-year stint as national security adviser that Rice truly distinguished herself in public service, topping the 2004 Forbes magazine list of the world's most powerful women.

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