Condoleeza Rice has written a loving memoir dedicated to her parents John and Angelina Rice. Extraordinary, Ordinary People can be read as a story of her life or of how two parents raised an extraordinary daughter in the midst of racism in Birmingham, Alabama. While the Rices were not perfect parents, in fact readers may feel they were overly indulgent with their only child, they were devoted to three main principles; education, high expectations and the unconditional love that prevented her from moments of self doubt.
Condoleeza’s parents always believed their daughter was exceptional and were committed to the importance of education. Somehow they got her enrolled in first grade at the age of three. As her first act of independence Condoleeza rebelled. Each day she was dropped off but she refused to go to class. Each day her grandparents were called to pick her up, so eventually the whole idea was dropped. In spite of a rocky start education continued to be a driving influence in the family’s decisions throughout Condoleeza’s first 25 years.
While growing up black in Birmingham her parents shielded her from the prevalent racism as much as possible and taught her to never consider herself a victim. But the Rices convinced Condoleezza that she would always have to be twice as good as anyone else in any pursuit.
These high expectations may explain why she became obsessive about her activities. She started piano lessons at the age of three, began performing at a young age and for years pursued her dream of becoming a concert pianist. When the family started living in Denver she threw herself into ice skating lessons several hours a day, arriving at the rink at 4:30 AM. This passion carried over into college when she began studying the politics of the Soviet Union.
John and Angelina encouraged extracurricular activities throughout her childhood to extend her education—ballet, gymnastics, baton twirling and even French on Saturdays. Parents in the Fox Cities are fortunate to have so many offerings available to their children through the public and private schools, YMCA, Paine Art Center, Appleton Children’s Museum, sports organizations, baton and dance studios, and private music lessons.
At graduation from the University of Denver when she received her PhD, John Rice made this toast, “your mother and I always knew you were special–you are God’s child.” Condoleeza Rice was blessed with the unconditional love of extraordinary, ordinary parents.