Oprah Talks to Condoleezza Rice
Oprah: Didn't your mother once insist that you use a whites-only dressing room?
Condoleezza: Yes. The lady in the store wanted me to try on my clothes in a storeroom, and my mother said I'd either try them on in the dressing room or not at all. Then, after the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, we went to a restaurant for the first time, and the people there stopped eating for a couple minutes. A few weeks later we went through a drive-in, I think it was called Jack's Hamburgers, and when we drove away I bit into my hamburger—and it was all onions.
Oprah: You graduated from high school when you were 15. At what point did you know you were a very smart girl?
Condoleezza: Well, somewhere around graduate school, I did think, "I'm pretty good at this."
Oprah: There wasn't part of you in the third grade that knew you were smart?
Condoleezza: The truth is that I was a terrible procrastinator, so a lot of times I wasn't all that well prepared. I don't ever remember thinking I was an exceptional student. I did think I was a good pianist.
Oprah: But isn't there part of you now that knows you're very smart?
Condoleezza: I think I'm above average, but not much more. When you've been a professor and provost at Stanford, you know what real genius is. I've seen genius, and I'm not it.
Oprah: Didn't you think you were going to be a pianist until the day you walked into a class on Russian history?
Condoleezza: No. I thought I was going to be a pianist until I went to a music festival camp and met kids who could play from sight what it had taken me all year to learn. I thought, "Murdering Beethoven—that's what I'm going to end up teaching 13-year-olds." Technically, I can play most anything. But I'll never play it the way the truly great pianists do. So during my junior year of college, I went on a mad search for a major. I went to my parents, who had spent a fortune and all of their time turning me into a pianist, and said, "Mom and Dad, I'm changing my major." My father said, "To what?" I said, "I don't know—but I know that I don't want to be a pianist." So we had one agreement: I would still finish school in four years. In the spring of my junior year, I walked into a course in international politics taught by a Soviet specialist named Dr. Josef Korbel, who is Madeleine Albright's father. There was a particular lecture where he was talking about Joseph Stalin and how he'd isolated the opposition, and it just clicked.
Oprah: What was clickable about Joseph Stalin?
Condoleezza: I remember thinking, "Russia is a place I want to know more about." It was like love. People ask me "Why do you love Russian culture?" just like they ask "What does she see in him?" I can't explain it—there was just an attraction. I read everything I can find about it. When I'm in Moscow, I feel at home more than I do in, say, Los Angeles. During the Soviet period, it used to drive me crazy because I always thought that these great people with their marvelous culture deserved much better than they were getting.