Condoleezza Rice visited New Albany's Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts on the afternoon of Nov. 17 to speak to 1,500 students from 11 central Ohio schools.

Condoleezza Rice visited New Albany's Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts on the afternoon of Nov. 17 to speak to 1,500 students from 11 central Ohio schools.

The former secretary of state was the featured speaker at the New Albany Community Foundation's annual fundraiser, "A Remarkable Evening," that evening.

"I started my quest by being a failed piano major," Rice told juniors and seniors from New Albany High School, as well as seniors from Africentric, Centennial, Johnstown-Monroe, Licking Heights, Mifflin, Northland and West high schools, Columbus Academy, the Columbus School for Girls and the Wellington School.

New Albany underclassmen and faculty watched a live feed of Rice's speech from the high school gym, said district technology coordinator Jon Stonebraker.

Rice said she always knew she wanted to be a piano major. She said she learned to read music before she learned to read.

But in her sophomore year of college, while attending an Aspen Music Festival in Colorado, she said she encountered musicians who quickly learned a piece she had worked all year to learn.

Once she realized she needed a new major, she tried classes in English literature and state and local government before discovering international politics and deciding she wanted to become a specialist on the Soviets.

"Your passion may be quite different from what you think it might be," she said. "Find what makes you want to get up every day and do that."

Rice was President George W. Bush's national security advisor from 2001 to 2005 and was the 66th U.S. secretary of state.

She recommended staying open to new opportunities, and to life's twists and turns.

"It was those twists and turns that made it possible for me to do what I'm doing," Rice said.

She recommended trying something hard, saying that students who are good writers should challenge themselves with math and science classes and those who are good at math should try reading and writing.

She said it is important to find mentors who can help and she cautioned to not look only for a person like oneself.

She said if she had waited to find a black woman from Alabama who was a Soviet specialist to mentor her, she'd still be playing piano.

"It's simply not true that you can get where you want to be without other people," she said. "Nobody gets to where they want to be on their own."

As for mentors who are different, she said, "There would be no 'firsts' if people only depended on role models who look like them."

Mentors can be teachers, parents, or others, she said, touting parents' advice.

"Your parents sometimes have pretty good advice," Rice said. "You should listen to them. You can argue back but you should listen to them."

She encouraged the students to work hard and volunteer to keep themselves from taking for granted all that they have.

"The way to avoid feeling aggrieved or entitled is to help those who don't have as much," Rice said.

Lastly, she reminded the students to continue to have fun, mentioning one of her pleasures, watching football on Saturday and Sunday.

"Set yourself on a course for happiness and don't try and plan every step ahead of you," she said.

Rice answered several questions, including the topics of foreign policy, the aftermath of Sept. 11 and the war in Afghanistan.

Several students said they learned a lot from Rice's presentation.

"I think the most important thing about her talk was when she talked about not only sticking with something easy but also trying to accomplish something new and something hard," said Africentric senior Jazmin Brooks.

Her principal, Ernie West, agreed, saying Rice even challenged adults in the room.

"This is the most powerful event that these students will be able to look back on in their lifetime," West said.

New Albany High School senior Molly Bhanja said the school has hosted many guest speakers but Rice is the most extraordinary.

"I can't believe I had the chance to hear her," Bhanja said.

She said the political discussion "really relates to what we're learning in school, with government and current events."

New Albany Superintendent April Domine called the experience "a life changing-event for the students."

The educational component of "A Remarkable Evening" was made possible through the district's partnership with the New Albany Community Foundation and sponsorship from Ruscilli Construction, said foundation executive director Craig Mohre.

lwince@thisweeknews.com

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