March 27, 2013 10:07:58 AM
STARKVILLE -- Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a Mississippi State University audience that a mature democracy requires individual citizens understand not only their rights, but also their responsibilities.
Rice spoke about current world events, saying the United States and the world are facing some very difficult times, yet with great opportunities that suggest optimism.
"Whenever I visit a place like this, a great university where our best and brightest are studying, I am indeed optimistic," she said.
"People are seizing their rights, and it's messy," Rice said. "What you're seeing in the Middle East today is what happens when people seize their rights."
Rice said democracy takes time, and freedom and democracy are not the same thing. She explained that a mature and stable democracy cannot be the tyranny of the majority, and it cannot be the strong exploiting the weak.
"Dignity only comes when the people who would govern you have to ask for your consent," Rice said.
The United States is a great paradox, she said. "We are very individualistic, but we're the most philanthropic."
Rice said a great American concept is the idea that, "It doesn't matter where you come from; it matters where you're going." The idea that every life is capable of achieving has brought many immigrants to the U.S. over the generations, but she said those who live as Americans need to continue to believe they are capable of breaking out of life circumstances, such as class, to achieve their own individual goals.
Rice stressed that quality education is the key to such a concept, and K-12 education is among the country's greatest challenges. She gave the personal account of how her family came to pass along a tradition of education, which ultimately led to many unexpected opportunities for her and others in her family.
Rice said third-grade children must be able to read, and more Americans should be able to score well on the basic skills test to qualify for military service.
Rice asked students to lay the foundation now for fulfilling their responsibility to democracy by taking actions to help those who are less fortunate. She said helping others is important for keeping perspective and avoiding attitudes of entitlement.
Just over 4,000 students and guests attended Rice's address Tuesday. The nation's 66th secretary of state was a guest on campus participating in the university's Global Lecture Series. The public address culminated a visit that also included a question-and-answer session with first-generation college students, student veterans and honors students, as well as a reception with alumni.