Condoleezza Rice Kicks Off Silk Speaker Series at USF

Brian Healy

News Editor

The crowd of nearly 500 buzzed with eager anticipation as 6:30 p.m. drew closer. Alumni, faculty, students and members of the USF community gathered on Thursday, Jan. 26 to hear from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rice, meanwhile, went unnoticed, standing  in the lobby of the McLaren Center with her bodyguard, awaiting her cue from USF president Rev. Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J.

Rice first served as George W. Bush’s foreign policy advisor, being promoted to Secretary of State after her predecessor, Colin Powell, resigned at the end of Bush’s first term. She is only the second woman and first African-American woman to hold the position of Secretary of State.

The responsibility of asking questions fell on USF alumnus Jeff Silk ’87, who quizzed Rice with questions pooled together from a survey of the members of the audience.


In October, the School of Management announced that Silk and his wife Naomi would pledge a “transformational gift” to the University that would bring “international thought leaders to campus for a speaker series on business, finance, and global issues,” reads a statement from the Office of Development Communications. Secretary Rice accepted an invitation to inaugurate the speaker series soon after the Silk’s announcement.

Silk, who earned a business degree from USF and frequently contributed to The Foghorn through his weekly finance column, Silk’s Purse, crafted his business acumen while working as a research analyst at Fisher Investments. After being with the investment firm through his four years of college, Silk continued his career with Fisher Investments after graduating. At the time, Fisher Investment only had two employees on their books and $8 million in asset management. 33 years (and $74 billion in asset management) later, Silk finds himself Vice Chairman and Co-Chief Investment Officer of a firm employing over 2,200 people worldwide.

During their conversation, Rice confessed that her love for foreign policy was at first delayed in favor of music. “The truth of the matter is that I am supposed to be a great concert pianist,” Rice said, retelling a story of approaching her mom with the idea of quitting piano in favor of other interests, only to be met with stern parental guidance. “So when at age ten I went to her and said ‘I am quitting piano; I am tired of the piano’ [my mother] said ‘You are not old enough or good enough to make that decision,” recounted Rice.

Music led Rice to the University of Denver where, after she saw the high level that younger musicians were playing at in a nearby music school, she decided to drop music as her major at the end of her sophomore year. She changed to English Literature at the start of her Junior year but soon after switched again. “With all due respect to whoever is here from English Literature, I hated it,” Rice said.


State and Local Government sounded practical, although Rice soon realized her disinterest after interviewing the City Water Manager of Denver. “To this day, the single most boring man I have ever met,” said Rice. “I thought, ‘That’s not it’.”

“Then I wandered into a course in international politics […] one of the most interesting little turns in life,” said Rice, who soon after decided that “diplomacy, things international, and things Russian,” was what she wanted to do.

Rice uses her experience as a confused college kid to teach her own students a valuable lesson. “Your most important task in your four years in college is to find something that you’re passionate about, not what is your job, not what’s going to be your career but something that is going to make you want to get up every day and go and do that’,” she said.

It was in 1990 that Rice found herself sitting in a helicopter on the White House lawn next to Mikhail Gorbachev, his wife and the Secret Service thinking to herself, “Glad I changed my major.”

Silk moved the conversation closer to current topics, specifically the rise of President Donald Trump, asking Rice on her thoughts of what people should expect from their new commander in chief. “Let’s remember that this is uncharted territory for everybody. We have never had a person get elected who had absolutely, fundamentally no government experience […] so it’s going to look and it is going to feel different for some time,” said Rice.


Rice believes, however, that Trump will face an uphill battle in the Capitol and in the courts if he wants to pass some of the controversial legislature he promised throughout his campaign.


“The United States actually has the most constrained presidency in the world. Now that may surprise you but it’s true,” said Rice. She argued that “When you think about 535 congress people, all with their ideas, when you think about courts, from the lowest courts all the way up to the Supreme Court that will strike down Presidential orders if they believe them unconstitutional, when you have 50 governors who have their own views of how their states ought to be run, and 50 legislators that join the governors in how the states ought to be run,” said Rice.


“Not to mention Americans, who are a notoriously ungovernable people,” she joked while concluding that “This will be a constrained Presidency one way or another.”


Silk deferred to the Dean of the School of Management, Elizabeth B. Davis, for closing statements where she made sure to inform the crowd of the two other Silk Speaker specials scheduled for the semester. Robert C. Merton, Nobel Laureate in Economics, will visit for a talk with USF Professor Ludwig Chincarini on Feb. 23 and Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, will stop by on April 19.

Davis said Wozniak’s appearance caused all tickets to be snatched up only a few minutes after they went on sale. For those still looking to attend, Davis said the School of Management is working on moving the venue site to War Memorial Gym so more tickets can be released to the public.


Photo Courtesy of Racquel Gonzales/ Foghorn


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