Greeted with cheers, Rice starts her first day on the job with humility

By Marla Lehner
Updated January 27, 2005 02:00 PM
Credit: Larry Downing/Reuters/Landov

A word of advice from Condoleezza Rice: “Be good to your interns.”

As the newly confirmed Secretary of State started her first day on the job Thursday, Rice, 50, recalled how 28 years ago she entered the same Washington, D.C., building – as an intern in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

“Well, this is a little different welcome than the first time that I came to work at the State Department,” she said after being greeted by cheers from employees. “Now, there’s a lesson in that: Be good to your interns,” she quipped.

Rice then wrapped up her speech – saying, “Now I’ll go try to find my office” – and planned to spend her first day making telephone calls to various foreign ministers and attending a White House meeting on Iraq and another at the department on the Asian tsunami disaster, the Associated Press reports.

Although there was little doubt that Rice, a trusted adviser to President Bush, would be confirmed as secretary, she received the most nay votes since anyone who has taken that office in 180 years. The Senate vote was 85-13.

Only Henry Clay, who was confirmed in 1825, by a vote of 27-14, drew more opposition. Henry Kissinger was approved 78-7, Dean Acheson 83-6 and Alexander Haig 93-6, according to the AP.

During Senate confirmation hearings last week, Rice was strongly challenged by Democrats on her role in American foreign policy, especially in Iraq, which is preparing for its first elections this weekend. But in the face of 390 oral and written questions, Rice remained firm. Echoing Bush’s inaugural speech, she said on Thursday morning: “America will stand for freedom and for liberty.”

Rice, born in Birmingham, Ala., as the only child of the late Rev. John Wesley Rice and his schoolteacher wife, Angelena, is the first African-American woman to serve as the country’s top diplomat. Growing up she studied ballet, figure skating and piano lessons, and was so successful at her endeavors that her father, a lifelong Republican, nicknamed her Little Star.

“My parents never said that because blacks can’t do this (or that, it) means there is something wrong with you,” she told a Knight-Ridder reporter in 1990. “They communicated just the opposite. It is absolutely possible for you to do anything you want to do, and pretty soon America is going to wake up to that.”

Rice is expected to undertake her first overseas venture as Secretary of State next week, going to Europe, the Middle East and possibly other regions.