Condoleezza Rice was born in 1954 to educator parents who strongly believed in education as the determining factor in the advancement of black people during the Jim Crow era. She grew up in Birmingham, AL where the civil rights movement was at it’s most violent, but her parents were determined to shield her from most of it.
At the age of three her mother was teaching her French, piano, figure skating and ballet. In addition, her father wanted her to become a sports fan, so he would explain football plays and strategies to her. It is obvious that her parents wanted Condoleezza to be well rounded, and so they went about creating a strong learning foundation to build upon.
Piano was what she would stick to though as she became good at reading music and could play hymns by the age of four. It was very clear that she was ready for kindergarten at five and so her father taught her math, reading, and writing at a school he started. When it was time to enter first grade, unfortunately, state law deemed her to be too young.
The cut-off date was Oct 31 and Condoleezza was born in November. Instead of waiting a year, like most people do even today, her mother convinced school officials to allow Condoleezza to test for second grade the following year. It would be up to Mrs. Rice to prepare her daughter for the test, and she made the sacrifice by pausing her teaching career. Here is how Condoleezza describes that year, taken from an excerpt of her biography, Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family :
“Mother was very systematic about my school day. Years later when the home-schooling movement became more visible, I belatedly realized that I had been a part of it, if only in an ad hoc way. We’d get up and see Daddy off to work and then start ‘school.’ She ordered the first-and second-grade texts in math, science, and reading and took me through them in a very rigorous fashion. I’d take tests every week to chart our progress. This flexible schedule also allowed time to practice piano, and as a result, I advanced significantly during this time…
Not only did Condoleezza pass, but she exceeded the second-grade level for all subjects! It’s no surprise that she went on to graduate high school at 16 and had finished her studies at the University of Denver by 19. It is there that she gained an interest in political science and became an expert in the Soviet Union and international relations.
By 26, she had a doctorate in political science, and her impressive knowledge of the subject began to set her up for a path to the largest stage for National Security, the White House. She served as National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush during his first term and became Secretary of State during his second term. She was the second African-American and second female to hold that position after Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright, respectively. Before her time in the White House, she was also appointed as Provost of Stanford University from 1993-99.
Condoleezza choice politics over music as a career early on but she has never forgotten her first love. She has performed many times publicly since she was a little girl, although not professionally. Most notably she played piano with the Denver Symphony at age 15 and has performed at diplomatic events during her time in Washington, including once for Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.
Although it only lasted for a short time, there's no doubt that Condoleezza's early start with home education had an impact on her life and love of learning. Currently, she lives in Palo Alto, CA where she is a faculty member for Stanford University and a fellow for the Hoover Institution. She has sat on the boards of corporate companies, such as Dropbox. And, by the way, she is a huge fan of the Cleveland Browns. Who knew?!