Introduction: President Nathan O. Hatch

Our first guest speaker this evening has been breaking barriers her entire career. Condoleezza Rice was the first woman to serve as National Security Advisor in 2001. And in 2005, she became the first African-American woman to hold the post of Secretary of State. Dr. Rice served as chief foreign policy advisor to former president George W. Bush during some perilous and pivotal times. Her tenure spanned the September 11th attacks and several years of tense nuclear arms negotiations with North Korea. Dr. Rice has committed much of her life to public service and leadership on a global scale. Today, she continues to lead as an educator. Before she joined the Bush administration. Dr. Rice was the first female, first African-American, and youngest provost at Stanford University. After leaving her diplomatic post in 2009, Dr. Rice returned to Stanford where she continues to teach and now serves as director of Stanford’s Hoover Institution. Since her childhood in racially segregated Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Rice has recognized the power of education to break boundaries. In an interview last summer on “Face the Nation,” she said that for her family, education was always a way to break through the barriers of prejudice. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Condoleezza Rice, who joins us today in a pre-recorded message.

Dr. Condoleezza Rice

Hello and congratulations to the class of 2021 of Wake Forest University. I’ve had the pleasure of being on your campus for events like this, and I also want very much, even though I haven’t had the chance to come and watch the Demon Deacons play because you have a wonderful tradition of a great university, a really great university with intercollegiate athletics. And I simply love that. I know that this isn’t exactly the Commencement that you expected, but I hope that you’ll have an opportunity during these next few hours, during these next few days, during the weeks ahead of you to reflect on what this journey has meant.

First and foremost, I hope you found your passion. When you find your passion, life has a way of laying out in front of you in a way that you begin to find that special intersection between your interests and your talents. I hope too, that you will remember that you’ve tried hard things, maybe a hard class, or maybe you’ve taken an assignment that’s been difficult because life is like that. You will find over time that doing hard things, things that you’re not particularly good at doing, but that you overcome, is perhaps more fulfilling than just doing what’s easy for you. I hope too, that you will remember all the wonderful relationships that you’ve built. There’s nothing like the relationships that you build in college. They will be there with you to sustain you. They’ll be there to ground you in who you are today and who you will become. And I hope that you’ve taken advantage of Wake Forest’s wonderful reputation as an international university, a place where people come from all over to get to know other cultures. There’s nothing quite like studying and living with people from other places. It makes you appreciate your own country and your own circumstances, but unless you know the fullness of the human experience, and I know that over time, that will serve you well.

Now, as I said, this isn’t exactly the Commencement that you expected. It isn’t the end to your time at Wake Forest that you’d hoped for and dreamed about. But Commencement is actually not the end. It’s the beginning. That’s why we say to commence. And so as you go forward, there’s another part of this very special journey in this COVID-centered year that you can also take with you. Remember that you’ve had to persevere in these difficult times. We all have. Remember, too, that you’ve had to adapt. In life you will have to adapt. Things won’t always be as you expected. You’ll have to learn to live with, and deal with, and overcome the unexpected. And you’ve done that in spades this year.

You, I hope, will remember the value of relationships through all of this. Just being able to see someone has been a real gift and a real pleasure. And so take that sense of the importance of relationships to life, to the fullness of life, with you. And I especially hope that you will take the sense of obligation to society. COVID-19 has exposed some very deep inequalities in the way that we work, in the way that we learn. And those inequalities are going to be with us for awhile. Pledge today to do something about making life better for those who have less than you do. And I’ll tell you something, when you ask — why do I have so much? — it is a much better foundation. And you get there by looking at those and working with those who have less. That will never allow you to be entitled or aggrieved again.

And then from that foundation, you can go out to exercise the responsibilities of an educated person. That is a group to which you are now admitted. This is a group from which you can never be expelled, but it does bring special obligations. It brings an obligation to be optimistic. The world was really never changed by pessimists. It was changed by people who saw the world, not as it is, but as it should be, but they had to have a sense of human potential in order to keep optimism that the world indeed could be changed. And so as you leave this place, remember why you came, remember all that you’ve done, and remember the foundation that you’ve received to exercise those obligations to society, to make this a better, more prosperous and peaceful world for all, no matter where they came from, no matter who they are. Thank you for allowing me to have a few minutes with you on this very special day. God bless. God speed.