Condoleezza Rice praises “Extraordinary, Ordinary People” at Stanford Bookstore

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Back at Stanford ... applause and protest (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Three Stanford police were outside the Stanford Bookstore at 4 p.m. today.  Book theft?  No, a book signing.  Condoleezza Rice, professor of political science and Hoover fellow, made a rare appearance — sans secret service or personal bodyguards — to promote her new memoir, Extraordinary, Ordinary People.

One student held a sign outside the glass doors: “Condi’s signature is dripping with blood.”  He was remonstrating with a swarthy man in a suit who seemed to be holding a photographer’s camera lens … no, it was a full Pepsi Cola bottle.  I had arrived a few minutes late, and didn’t have a chance to see the playing out of that little drama.

Fortunately, Prof. Rice was a few minutes later than I was.  I waded towards the basement “textbook area,” where students were crowding the balustrades and peering downwards.  I elbowed my way downstairs, mildly squashing myself beside two Asian students, who were speaking in Chinese and thumbing through the first pages of her book.

It’s diplomatic to say someone “hasn’t changed” in decades — but Condi Rice really hasn’t changed.  I remember her as a young associate professor of political science in the mid-80s.  A couple of decades and thousands of hours of workouts later (hers, not mine), she really does look the same, wearing a sleek brown jacket and trousers.

She didn’t talk about the controversial Bush years:  Everyone expects “the obligatory secretary of state memoir,” a policy memoir with names and insider’s details, she said.  “Indeed I have started and will finish that book.”

Instead, she wanted to talk about “extraordinary, ordinary people” John and Angelena Rice.  Her mother taught English and was one of Willie Mays’s early teachers.  She had told him, recalled Rice, “Son, you’re going to be a ball player, and if you have to leave class a few minutes early…”  The rest of her remark was lost in laughter.  Her father had been a Presbyterian minister and founder of Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Part of what makes extraordinary people, she said, is extraordinary times.  Birmingham, Alabama, was “the most segregated city in America,” she said, a place where “racism was quite hard-edged.”  For the Stanford students who formed most of the crowd, it was a description of the lost and unimaginable reality – for some, a world that died before even their parents were born.

Rice recalled the “horrors of Birmingham,” where she lost a childhood friend in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four young girls in 1963, during the time the city was called “Bombingham.”  Nevertheless, in the close-knit neighborhood of Titusville where she grew up, the children were taught “We could not have a hamburger at Woolworth’s, but you could become president of the United States.”

In addition to the secretary of state, the community produced the president of the University of Maryland at Baltimore, two Pulitzer prizewinners, and a host of other luminaries who flew by my ear faster than my pen could write.

Rice said she was taught: “There are no victims.  You cannot control your circumstances, but you can control your response to circumstances.  You will have to be twice as good.”  Adversity would give them an armor to defend themselves against “them.” “’They’ will have to respect you.  That was the mantra,” she said.  Education was the key.

Studying in Denver

She recalled her grandfather, a sharecropper who was determined to get an education.  After one year at Stillman College he was out of money and told he could not continue.  He asked how the other kids could stay.  They have scholarships, he was told; on the other hand, if he wanted to become a Presbyterian minister…  “That was exactly what I had in mind,” her grandfather decided on the spot.  His son adopted the same calling.

Rice remembered the collapse of Jim Crow and the passage of the Civil Rights Act.  She and her parents watched The Huntley-Brinkley Report announce the passage of the act, which the local news called “the so-called Civil Rights Act.”

The Rice family was anxious to find out the truth.  They went to a movie theater, and then a restaurant.  As they entered the restaurant, “People looked up, suddenly realized it wasn’t illegal, and went back to eating.”

However, a few weeks later she was served a hamburger that tasted odd.  Where’s the beef?  She showed her parents:  it was  onions, not hamburger.

She had trained as a pianist – but changed her mind when she faced a future of “teaching 13-year-olds to murder Beethoven.”

The default mode was international relations.

Her mother died of cancer in 1985. Her father died on Dec. 24, 2000 – a week before his daughter went to Washington as national security advisor.

Titusville kids valued education -- here she's in Boston

She admitted she misses them both, when she travels and still wishes to send them snapshots, or when she walked in the Holy Land she thought of her Presbyterian father, or when she went to Aïda, the first opera she had attended with her mother.

“But when you’ve been that close, your mother and father never leave you,” she said.  Her father would tell her, “You’re God’s child, and you are prepared for what is ahead of you.”

“There’s no better gift that they can give you – that sense that you are prepared for what is ahead of you.”

She started her brief talk after Stephen Krasner’s fulsome introduction, and was finished by 4.20 p.m.  The next hour and a half was reserved for book signing – row by row, to prevent chaos.  The crowds at the balustrades had doubled.

Outside, the Stanford police still lingered.  I asked one of them who the swarthy man was – not suprisingly, he was another policeman.

No protests?  The officer indicated about ten people, milling and languidly talking among themselves.  It didn’t look like much of a demo.  “They were doing the megaphone about 10 minutes ago,” the officer reassured me, and they had been passing out leaflets.  It was quiet now.

“That’s the way we like it,” he said. “Nice and peaceful.”


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One Response to “Condoleezza Rice praises “Extraordinary, Ordinary People” at Stanford Bookstore”

  1. Dr. Trish Dolasinski Says:

    I enjoyed this entry about a phenomenal woman and great patriot. Having read Extraordinary, Ordinary People, I am deeply moved by Dr. Rice’s story, while also noting similarities about her reflections and the theme of my own novel. Although originally from the midwest, my husband and I spent almost four years in Alabama during the post-Civil Rights era and were appalled by the segrgation we witnessed. As a life-long educator and adjunct professor as well, the key to freedom for all is truly education. My novel is about believing in youth and the powerful impact of significant adults in the life of a child, based upon my experiences living in the Deep South during that tumultuous historical period. Thank you for sharing this review. I would be delighted if you could stop by my blog and leave me a comment.
    Best wishes,
    Dr. Trish Dolasinski

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