Susan Rice lectures on family history, lessons from positions

Noah Pasley

A former ambassador to the United Nations took the stage at Colorado State University to discuss her family and career, as well as offer her take on the importance of working together in an interconnected world. 

Susan Rice, former ambassador to the U.N., former adviser on the National Security Council and the author of “Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For,” hosted a conversation with Greg Myre, the national security correspondent for National Public Radio, Tuesday night at the Lory Student Center Grand Ballroom.

Ad

Rice and Myre spoke in detail about her parents.

“I spend a good amount of time in my memoir talking about myself in a very personal way, but I began the book with a fairly detailed story of my parents,” Rice said. “I couldn’t begin to tell the story of who I am … without telling the story of who they were and where they came from.”

She spoke about her parents and grandparents and their stories as immigrants, first-generation students and former slaves.

Rice said her mother had very little money to go to school after an accident with her grandpa that depleted the family savings and after being denied a Radcliffe College scholarship on account of her race.

However, Rice said her mother was able to attend Radcliffe after her principal and high school debate coach appealed to Radcliffe and a nonprofit organization and got the money.

Rice said her father was born into segregated South Carolina in 1920 to his father, Walter Rice, a former slave.

Walter fought for the Union after emancipation and became a primary school teacher during Reconstruction before being driven out by the Ku Klux Klan, Rice said.

I write in the final chapter that I think our domestic political divisions are currently our greatest national security vulnerability.” -Susan Rice, former ambassador to the United Nations and adviser on the National Security Council

“That was my father’s inheritance,” Rice said. “He decided ’cause he was a child of the Depression, that he was fascinated by economics.”

After getting his degree, Rice said her father was drafted into WWII, during which he served with the Tuskegee Airmen. 

“My dad thought that it was absolutely ridiculous that Black people had to prove to white officers that we could fight and fly as well as anybody else,” Rice said.

Ad

She also spoke on her father’s resentment of the “irony” of fighting for a military that was fighting for the “freedom of everybody but his own people.”

“He couldn’t go off base and get served at a restaurant, but he saw German (prisoners of war) being served in those same restaurants,” she said.

He eventually got his doctorate in economics and then became an assistant professor at Cornell University, eventually becoming governor of the Federal Reserve, Rice said.

Rice expanded on her family’s perseverance and resilience and how it has contributed to her own family.

“Jake sounds like you,” Myre said of how Rice’s son seemed similar to her.

“(He’s) interested in politics, so quite naturally it follows that he would become the president of the Stanford College Republicans,” Myre said.

Rice took the moment to say that the political division in her family has given her an “appreciation” for what a lot of fellow Americans are feeling.

She also said that, after her experience with her parents’ divorce, her family has to be “mindful of the imperative of staying together.”

“Thankfully, all four of us share that commitment,” Rice said.

Rice also shared her story of being the “boogeyman” in the media after sharing “talking points” given to her by the CIA that later turned out to be inaccurate. 

“Within days, I was branded a liar, incompetent, untrustworthy: mostly by Republicans in Congress,” Rice said.

Rice said that her daughter, who was 9 years old at the time, started complaining about the images of “men coming at her out of walls.” Health professionals determined that her daughter was having a stress reaction to how the media had treated Rice after the incident.

“Regardless of your personal party, the politics of personal destruction comes at a cost,” Rice said. 

Rice reflected on her role as national security adviser during the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic and used that experience to explain the importance of coordinating action between countries for the common good.

She said the director of the Centers for Disease Control passed around a new chart at an NSC meeting indicating nearly a million people could become infected if nothing happened between late August and December 2015.

Rice said that the mortality rate for Ebola was 50-75%, and the chart indicated well over 500,000 people could potentially die if action wasn’t taken quickly.

I couldn’t begin to tell the story of who I am … without telling the story of who they were and where they came from.” -Susan Rice, former ambassador to the United Nations and adviser on the National Security Council

Rice described the action plan for trying to control the spread of Ebola by giving President Barack Obama unprecedented advice for deploying 3,000 American military personnel to West Africa to set up Ebola treatment centers and hospitals. 

She also recalled Obama’s cabinet calling for aid from many other countries, and at the end of the epidemic, 28,000 had been infected and 11,800 had died.

Myre wrapped up the discussion by asking Rice what advice she would give to young people as they try to process this “very complicated world.” 

“The most important thing I would say to young people is it’s your future,” Rice said. “So the last thing you can afford to be is indifferent.”

She said it means participating in the democratic process, registering to vote and “encouraging all those around you to vote.” 

“It matters profoundly how the United States is led and how we lead in the world,” Rice said.

Rice said it’s important to familiarize yourself with others and understand each other better.

“We sink or swim together,” Rice said. “I write in the final chapter that I think our domestic political divisions are currently our greatest national security vulnerability. But I also say that we have the history and the capacity … to overcome those divisions.” 

Noah Pasley can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @PasleyNoah.