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Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discusses the economy, philanthropy and her Southern upbringing in this Q&A.

Since the end of her distinguished tenure as U.S. Secretary of State, from 2005 to 2009, Dr. Condoleezza Rice has resumed teaching political science at Stanford University. She also devotes her time to causes she’s passionate about, particularly education reform. In 2009, she became a senior advisor to Regions Financial’s board of directors. Regions asked Dr. Rice, a Birmingham, Ala., native, about her outlook for the economy and how her Southern upbringing has influenced her charitable work and career. Some analysts believe election year rallies are sparked by economic stimulus measures enacted by Congress and the President in the years before elections, helping spur confidence.

Q: What must the U.S. do to stay competitive in a world that has become increasingly globalized?

Rice: The U.S. must continue to foster the democratic foundations that have always allowed us to be great. We must demand higher education standards so that we are educating our best and brightest to lead the next generation. We must foster our entrepreneurial spirit and allow for creative innovation. And finally, we should welcome those who want to come here to achieve the American dream and add to our unique American spirit. The 21st century rewards those who mobilize human potential. The U.S. has excelled at doing so in the past — we must make sure that we continue to do so in the future.

Q: Philanthropy, especially in education, has been a major part of your life. How do you select the causes and organizations to which you devote your time, name and money?

Rice: Education is one of my dearest passions. I come from a family of educators and I, too, am an educator. I’m deeply concerned about the crisis in our K–12 education system. If I can look at your ZIP code and tell if you are going to get a good education or not, how are we providing equal education to all of our children? Education is the most important mechanism by which people can achieve their dreams and take part in the American spirit.

Q: In your memoirs, you refer to your “Extraordinary, Ordinary” family. What aspects of your family life were ordinary and which were extraordinary?

Rice: My parents were ordinary because they were teachers who led very normal lives and yet they were extraordinary because, through their teaching, they were able to impact so many young lives in the schools, at our church and in the community. My parents taught me that by small and simple things you can truly make a difference, and that’s what I have tried to do in my life.

Q: How did growing up in the South and your southern values and connections affect how you handle foreign affairs? Do you feel they helped you?

Rice: When our founding fathers said, “We the people,” they didn’t mean me. Growing up in the South, my family experienced firsthand the struggle for equal rights and the end of segregation. The history of our country shows a movement to respect all citizens— man, woman, and child — no matter their race, ethnicity, religions or gender. These adaptations are what make our democracy so great. As Secretary of State, I could relate to those people around the world who still struggle for their freedom and human rights today. I could speak with other foreign leaders about our country’s history and tell them firsthand of the struggles we have faced as a nation. These experiences helped me to convey the principles of freedom and human rights for all peoples.

Q: As a senior advisor to Regions Board Of Directors since 2009, you’ve been active in helping the company with many important business and charitable initiatives. Which of them stands out the most in your mind and why

Rice: I’ve enjoyed all of the opportunities I have had while working with Regions. I have been inspired when I have seen firsthand the impact Regions has in the communities it serves. In 2011, Grayson Hall and I visited Scott Elementary School in Pratt City, just outside of Birmingham, after the deadly tornadoes a few weeks before. We toured the relief center and offered our support and help to those who had suffered from the tragic events. And in 2012, we visited the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club in Birmingham, where Regions employees participated in a service day. It was inspiring to see the smiling faces of the kids and to know that we can make a difference in children’s lives.

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