In 1989 then-President George Herbert Bush introduced Condoleezza Rice to his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev by saying, "This is Condoleezza Rice. She tells me everything I know about the Soviet Union."
Eleven years later, President George W. Bush echoed his father's praise and described her as the person who "can explain to me foreign policy matters in a way I can understand."
Modestly calling her life "a typical American story," Bush's 2004 pick for Secretary of State, Condoleezza (Italian for "with sweetness") Rice (1954-), grew up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, the granddaughter of a poor cotton farmer.
She skipped grades one and seven. By age 19, she was an accomplished classical pianist, ice skater, and college graduate. She earned her Ph.D. by age 26, specializing in Soviet culture and politics.
"I was attracted to the Byzantine nature of Soviet politics," she explained. "And by power: how it operates, how it's used."
As an assistant professor at Stanford University in 1981, she said, "I tell my students, 'If you find yourself in the company of people who agree with you, you're in the wrong company.'" A former Democrat, Rice switched parties in 1982.
In 1993, Condy, as she is known to her family and friends, became Stanford's provost (chief financial and academic officer), the university's youngest, its first woman, and first African American. As a trusted Bush insider, she has been called one of the most influential people in the world.
"I'm a realist," she once said. "Power matters."
"The United States is the critical actor in international politics and has no choice but to be involved in the world."
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