Oprah: In the days after the attack, I heard many leaders saying, "We can't let the terrorists win." But didn't they already win that first round by using our freedom against us?
Condoleezza: No. Despite the tragedy, the toughness of America was reaffirmed. As part of the presidential motorcade, I remember riding to the memorial service here in D.C. at the National Cathedral. On Massachusetts Avenue, someone had a sign that read GOD BLESS AMERICA. WE WILL NOT BE TERRORIZED. The terrorists have got to be disappointed that the attack didn't bring America down—it brought us together.
Oprah: I believe that every moment in your life prepares you for the next. What has prepared you for this?
Condoleezza: Since I was a girl I have relied on faith—a belief that I'm never alone, that the bottom will never fall out too far. That has always been a part of me, and I'm drawing on that now. I also think my time in academia prepared me more strongly than even I realized. I can't tell you how many times I taught decision simulations in which I gave my students a crisis to deal with and then sat down with them afterward to go through the lessons. I learned things like "The first reports are always wrong," which I remember saying several times on September 11.
Oprah: So you come from that place of believing that no matter what, your life will be all right?
Condoleezza: Yes—and that place is faith. I had pretty strong parents who taught me that.
Oprah: Of all the things I've read about you, what moved me most was something you said about your parents.
Condoleezza: I have often said that my parents couldn't sit at the Woolworth counter, but they believed I could be president.
Oprah: How is that?
Condoleezza: My whole community was determined not to let their children's horizons be limited by growing up in segregated Birmingham. Sometimes I think they overcompensated because they wanted their kids to be so much better. My parents were extraordinary, as were their parents, so I come from a long line of family whose belief was, You can do it, but you have to work really hard—and you're not allowed to make excuses.
Oprah: What fascinates me is that you had a sharecropper grandfather who wasn't educated himself but who believed that education was the open door.
Condoleezza: Right. And he managed to find his way to Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He paid for his tuition with cotton, and when that money ran out he became a Presbyterian minister to get a scholarship. Because of that strong family structure and an intense faith, I've never believed that God would fail me if I'm faithful.
We Hear You!