Archived News Item

Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State visits Mercedes College, Perth

Dr Condoleezza Rice and Mr Stephen Smith,
Australia’s Foreign Minister

During her recent visit to Perth, US Secretary of State, Dr Condoleeza Rice spent time with students and staff at Mercedes College. Lyn Barker, Community Relations Officer at the College, reports on the visit.

Before she arrived we were told that she was the most powerful woman in the world, yet when she spoke it seemed as if she were speaking to a familiar gathering, offering gentle advice. The formality of the school assembly gave way to the ambience of a comfortable cup of tea between friends. She was an excellent example to the girls: gracious, calm and confident. Dr Rice shared her personal life experience, advice for young women and heartfelt wishes for a better society. It was so sincere, so powerful that 500 senior girls at Mercedes College, an inner city Mercy girls’ school, sat either cheering or clapping or in wrapt silence. If anyone present had some worries about US or Australian foreign policies, these were put aside to hear the wise and thoughtful words of a woman who said she was not concerned about being discriminated against because she was black and a woman; she was in a position of influence, and she had always been black and female.

Members of the 12 member choir,
Sheena Barber, Dr Rice and Stephen Smith

There was a family feeling about this talk. Mr Stephen Smith, the Australian Foreign Minister was there. His daughter, Maddie is a year 10 student at Mercedes and she sat in the front row. Dr Rice remembered Maddie and referred to her by name and also used the names of the head girl and members of staff. Both Mr Smith and Dr Rice talked about the importance of relationships between nations, governments, and peoples whilst stressing the importance of friendship between leaders on a human level. Mr Smith had invited Dr Rice to Australia and together they sat on stage with the Principal, Mrs Sheena Barber, and spoke to the girls about life, the importance of study and learning languages, and the power of education to influence change in the world.

Friendship was a theme of the discussion. When asked about her boss, President George Bush, Dr Rice said he values lifelong friendship and has maintained and valued friendships from school and university. She said a good learning from her relationship with President Bush is the importance of nurturing close friendships.

Principal Sheena Barber and senior student
being interviewed by the media about
the visit by Dr Rice

Dr Rice’s opinions about being open to that which presents itself in life, rather than being confined by rigid five year plans, impressed the girls who have often been told how the pioneering Sisters of Mercy set sail from Ireland back in 1845 to establish a school in the Swan River Colony and were open to the spirit guiding them through unchartered territory. They found conditions harsh and yet they adapted and established schools and hospitals that still serve people today. Mr Smith said that people in power build on the efforts of those who came before and that real change happens incrementally. For those who teach and lead in Mercy schools today it is a reminder that we follow in the footsteps of the sisters who came before us.

Her advice to the girls on choosing a path reminds us of the emphasis the Sisters of Mercy have always placed on girls’ education. “Don’t let anybody define for you what you should be interested in. Your horizons should be limitless at this point. You have to find that special combination of what you are good at doing and what you love to do.”

As a gift to musically talented Dr Rice, a 12 member choir sang What a Wonderful World, and she and Mr Smith rose and applauded in appreciation of the a cappella rendition. She also received a history of Mercedes, Out of These Stones, written by Sr M. Maureen Cream RSM.

Dr Rice accepting the gift copy of
the History of Mercedes College

After the assembly some Year 11 girls were asked what struck them as most significant in Dr Rice’s talk and question session. Madison Rae commented, “When Dr Rice said, find a mixture of what you like and what you are good at for a career that made good sense.” Adrianna Manino said, “What struck me most about her was her advice to do something you love and are passionate about.” Matilda Cunningham said, “I thought Dr Rice was motivating, inspirational and passionate and liked her advice that you may not find your vocation it may find you.” Luci Labrano said, “Unlike normal assemblies, I noticed how unusually still and attentive the girls were. They were sitting looking up and listening intently to Dr Rice and Mr Smith and were captivated by every word.”

From: Lyn Barker, Community Relations Officer, Mercedes College, Perth

Founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1846, Mercedes College in Perth is the oldest existing girls’ school in Australia still located on its original site. Visit the College website.

To read a transcript of Dr Rice’s conversatin with students at Mercedes College, Perth click here.