Monday, May 4, 2009

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told students at a Washington school Sunday that it is easy to do some things well, “but you’ll feel greater achievement working hard at something you don’t do so well and then mastering it.”

Miss Rice’s talk at the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital on 16th Street Northwest was her first appearance in the District since leaving the State Department in January at the end of the Bush administration.

When a boy asked how she felt about “things the Obama administration has said about how we got information from prisoners,” Miss Rice replied that she didn’t think it would be responsible for her to give an opinion.

“[Barack Obama] is now my president, too,” she said. “I will not agree with everything that they do, I will not agree with everything that they say, … but for the time being, if I disagree, I’ll keep it to myself.”

Miss Rice discussed the importance of education and reflected on her childhood and career in her remarks to about 40 students in grades four through six. She told them that some of the most important things children can do are to study foreign languages, study music, visit foreign countries and find something that they are passionate about.

Asked about any regrets she might have from her time as secretary of state, Miss Rice said, “If I had to say right now … what do I wish we could have done that we didn’t get done? I wish we could have gotten peace in the Middle East, between Israel and Palestine.”

Miss Rice kept her remarks brief in the school’s gymnasium so she could focus on the students’ questions, which ranged from her childhood in segregated Alabama to her time at the State Department.

The students sat at folding tables decorated with blue tablecloths and small American and Israeli flags. When Miss Rice entered, they stood and greeted her by singing “Shalom Aleichem,” a Hebrew welcoming song.

“There is something about Israel and the United States … you feel a kind of common bond, right from the beginning,” Miss Rice said later, responding to a question about the importance of the ties between the two countries. “The United States needs to be Israel’s friend so that Israel can protect itself. … Israel is a remarkable place.”

Asked about growing up in the age of Jim Crow, Miss Rice said that she always saw segregation as a temporary obstacle.

“It didn’t put limits on who I thought I could be,” she said. “I couldn’t go into that restaurant and have a hamburger, but I was absolutely sure that if I wanted to be the president of the United States, I could.”

Miss Rice said that President George W. Bush was “very clear that he wanted to do everything he could to protect the country.” Mr. Bush, she said, “was also very clear that we would do nothing that was against the law or against our obligations internationally.”

Asked what was the biggest social injustice facing the country today, Miss Rice replied that it is “when kids who are poor, or come from difficult circumstances, don’t have an opportunity for really good education … every child should have the opportunities that I’ve had and that you’ve had.”

On Sunday evening, Miss Rice spoke at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue as part of the school’s fourth annual Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Lecture. This year’s lecture, “Perspectives on Peace and War,” featured a conversation between Miss Rice and Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic magazine.

Previous lectures have featured Yuval Rabin, son of the slain Israeli prime minister, and author, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.

“We are flattered and honored to have her,” said Steve Rabinowitz, co-chairman of the lecture series and a Jewish Primary Day School parent. Mr. Rabinowitz praised Miss Rice’s “unique perspective … about waging war, making peace, and how we teach kids about these issues.”

Miss Rice returned to California’s Stanford University in March, where she is a professor of political science and a senior fellow in public policy at the university’s Hoover Institution. Miss Rice joined the Stanford faculty in 1981 and was the university’s provost from 1993 to 1999.

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