Passion and Education…
Posted October 31, 2006on:
This college’s mission resonates with me on a very personal level, for I’ve learned in my own life that education is the single greatest force for equality in the world. I first learned about the transformational power of education from stories about my paternal grandfather, a real family hero. You see, Granddaddy was a poor sharecropper’s son from Ewtah — that’s E-w-t-a-h — Alabama. And one day, Granddaddy decided he was going to get book learning so he asked, in the parlance of the day, where a colored man could go to school. And he was told that there was this little Presbyterian college just about 50 miles down the road.
So Granddaddy Rice saved up his cotton to pay for his first year’s tuition and he went off to Stillman College. But after his first year, he didn’t have any more money and they told him he was going to have to leave school. And Granddaddy said to a college administrator, “Well, how are those boys going to school?” And the administrator said, “Well, you see, they have what’s called a scholarship. And if you wanted to be a Presbyterian minister, then you could have a scholarship, too.” And Granddaddy Rice said, “You know, that’s just what I had in mind,” and my family has been college educated and Presbyterian ever since. (Laughter and applause.)
Because of all that my grandfather and others of my ancestors endured, including poverty and segregation, they understood that education was a privilege, but also that privilege confers obligations. And so today, I would like to suggest to you what I think are five important responsibilities of educated people.
The first responsibility is one that you have to yourself, the responsibility to find and follow your passion. I don’t mean just any old thing that interests you, not just something that you could or might do, but that one unique calling that you can’t do without. As an educated person, you have the opportunity to spend your life doing what you love and you should never forget that many do not enjoy such a rare privilege. As you work to find your passion, you should know that sometimes, your passion just finds you.
That’s what happened to me. I was supposed to be a concert pianist. I could read music before I could read. And I started college as a music major. But around the end of my sophomore year, I started encountering prodigies, 12-year-olds who could play from sight what it had taken me all year to learn, and I thought, “I’m going to end up playing piano bar or teaching 13-year-olds to murder Beethoven or maybe playing at Nordstrom, but I’m not going to play Carnegie Hall.” And I went to my parents and I decided that I had better find something else to do.
I was lost and confused, but one day, a wonderful thing happened. I wandered into a course on international politics taught by a Czech refugee who specialized in Soviet studies, a man who had a daughter by the name of Madeleine Albright. With that one class, I was hooked. I discovered that my passion was Russia and all things Russian. Needless to say, this was not exactly what young black girls from Birmingham were supposed to do in the early 1970s, but it just shows you that your passion may be hard to spot, so keep an open mind and keep searching. “