JACKSON, Tenn. – Oct. 21, 2009 – Students at Union University have the privilege to study where reason and faith are not at war, and “where the intellect and the soul inhabit the same body,” according to Condoleezza Rice.
Because of that privilege, the former U.S. secretary of state told students they have a special responsibility to find their passion and to be optimistic about the future of the country.
Rice, who served as secretary of state for President George W. Bush, was the keynote speaker Oct. 20 for Union University’s 12th annual Scholarship Banquet at the Carl Perkins Civic Center. The event drew more than 2,000 people and raised more than $500,000 for student scholarships – both record numbers for the Scholarship Banquet.
“All of the problems that we have, all of the challenges that we face, are not going to be solved tomorrow,” Rice said. “History has a long arc, not a short one. And so, likely, many of these challenges will not be solved by me, or by many of you.
“They will be solved by you,” she continued, gesturing to the Union students in attendance. “And they’ll be passed on to successive generations.”
Rice examined some of the challenges facing the United States, such as terrorism and the struggle of helping to establish democracy in places like Afghanistan, the fifth poorest country in the world. She expressed gratitude to men and women serving in the military for their commitment to keeping the United States free.
“The only reason we can sleep at night is because out on the front lines of freedom there are men and women, many in uniform and some not, who fight our fight,” Rice said. “I especially want to honor those men and women in uniform who fight in distant lands … so that we can be free. You see, freedom is never free.”
The most significant threats to the United States come not from powerful states like China, Rice said, but from failed states that can’t control their own territory, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. She said U.S. efforts in Afghanistan will take time as the country seeks to give its people a decent life, but that progress is being made.
“We have to be patient with young democracies that are trying to emerge from failed states,” Rice said. “It’s not easy, sometimes. But we have to recognize that people have to have a decent life. They have to have hope.
“If people don’t have decent lives, if their governments are not decent to them, they’re dangerous places,” she continued. “We have to recognize that in order to be secure, we’ve got to find a way to stick with places like Afghanistan as they try and find their way to unity and to a better life.”
Rice said the United States of all places should understand the difficulties in establishing a democracy, as it took nearly 200 years after the nation’s founding for black Americans to earn equality with white Americans.
“Democracy takes time, and we of all people should know that a more perfect union, one in which the institutions of freedom have real meaning, doesn’t come overnight,” Rice said. “But in the final analysis, it is the only system of governance that can fully guarantee for people their rights and their freedoms.”
The strength of democracy and capitalism in the United States allows the nation to contribute to a decent, more secure world, Rice suggested. She argued that the United States should continue to give foreign assistance generously to countries that are trying to govern wisely. But, she warned, the best U.S. efforts won’t work if the global economy isn’t growing again.
That economic growth will only come as a result of leadership in the private sector, Rice said, and not because of government intrusion into the economy. While the private sector is creative, innovative and risk-taking, Rice said the government was none of those.
And while some in the world may be fearful of American military might and envious of U.S. economic progress, Rice said the world needs the United States to lead.
“While it may be fun these days in Berlin or Paris or London to talk about the failures of American capitalism, nobody really, actually, believes it,” Rice said. “Because if American capitalism fails, there will be no global growth, and everyone will suffer. …
“We’re very, very fortunate in this world that the freest, the most compassionate and the most generous nation on the face of the earth is also the most powerful,” she continued. “Therefore, the United States of America will lead, and it will lead from the right values, and if we are OK, everyone else will be OK too.”