One of those things that parents always tell their children is: “Straighten your back!” Whether it’s at school, during prayer, in the car, or when you are going to listen to a public speaker about foreign affairs. On this particular Wednesday, it was the latter. I was sitting at Pepperdine University School of Law in a room a few degrees too cold next to my dad in the front row.
“Straighten your back!” I started slouching to read the pamphlet in front of me as he told me again, “Oxygen to the brain. You have to keep up with her.”
The her my father was referring to was Dr. Condoleezza Rice, and in a matter of minutes she was going to sit in one of four seats in the center of the room and talk to the audience about her take on world events.
A voice came over the speaker that instructed everyone to stand. Out of a door, in the back of the room came a line of people. In the middle of the line was a woman that everyone stared at, Dr. Rice. She took her seat and the other three people, two men and a woman, were introduced by an older man at a podium. The woman was going to moderate questions written on cards by the audience and the two men were going to continue conversations with Dr. Rice.
Without a further ado, the panel started.
The panel started with current events such as Egypt. Dr. Rice would state her opinion and the panel would continue asking her questions. No matter how difficult the questions may have been, Dr. Rice had an answer nearly immediately. I wondered how anyone could think that fast yet talk so clearly. Occasionally, Dr. Rice would crack a joke, and as the audience chuckled she would pause and smile before continuing when it quieted down.
She brought up interesting points, some that will stay with me forever. One of which was about the treatment of women, and how it shows how safe a country is and the quality of the culture. The countries trying to be progressive will treat the women as well as they treat the men. The idea was new to me and I found it very interesting to notice this; that simply how women are treated can show what a country is like.
Dr. Rice also spoke about America being exceptional. America consists of families that have been coming from all over the world for generations, but falling under the same category of American. We fight for the rights of others, even if we don’t know their names. This really is exceptional. Exceptionalness doesn’t stop there though. Every individual out there can be exceptional. They can be the ones to fight for the rights of others, to use of knowledge composed from all different cultures.
I have never really thought about American Exceptionalism before, but with Dr. Rice describing this and the treatment of women being a touch stone for the quality of a county’s culture, I started to review my life as an American girl. I get to go to a school I love, spend time with people that I choose, and no one tells me that I can’t do something or even worse, that I am only allowed to grow up to be a certain thing. My mom and dad tell me all the time that there are no limitations to what I can become; in some countries the girls and even grown women do not have these chances. I know I am young, but I cannot remember a time when I was told I could not do something because I was a girl.
The NRA, Smith & Wesson, and SHE Clothing believe in women, providing opportunities, education and encouragement making it so women and children can learn about shooting sports and outdoors activities. A focus of the NRA is to teach children and women about safe handling of firearms. Smith & Wesson sponsors women and junior shooters, which would be unheard of in some other countries. (Then again, there is also the possibility of firearm restrictions, where women, children, and maybe even men may not be allowed to own or use firearms.) SHE clothing, makes clothing for female outdoorsmen, showcasing women in adventurous and exciting settings. They all encourage women to experience the outdoors, experience the enjoyment of life.
Toward the end of the lecture another question was asked. Lots of students in that room were wondering what advice she had to give to those who wanted to become involved with international affairs. She told them the practical things, to find something you have a passion about, to learn many languages, especially the difficult ones, to learn about different cultures. Then she told me something that really stuck out. She explained that you cannot plan the next twenty years of your life. You can only plan the next step. This took me a moment to fully understand, and then another moment to see a difference. I could only plan so far in life because things happen every day that change the next moment. I can only plan what comes next, if it’s writing this essay or watching TV, if it’s studying or talking to friends. I can only plan what comes next to make that goal come true. Well, I did sit up straight and I realized what sort of opportunities are here for me as I’m growing up in this exceptional country, America.
After she had finished talking and after a round of applause, she left to go into a room where she would sign books. My dad had his book tucked under his arm as we waited first in line. I was going to meet her! We walked up and she smiled and said hello, signing the book. I was so happy! It only got better though, as I left the room and my dad’s friend handed me another book; my copy. I left it for my dad to pick up and he had given it to his friend who was working security for Dr. Rice.
We got into the car and I opened to the front page. I had written a note for Dr. Condoleezza Rice, telling her about my goal to be the best I can in shooting, about how, like her, I’m going against the normal look for my “profession.” I’m not a bulky adult man. I’m a short teenage girl. Dr. Rice went against stereo types to be an African-American woman in a high place politically.
As I sat up straight, I read her note. She told me to keep going for my dream, which encouraged me not only to be the best shooter, but the best daughter, the best friend, the best student, the best person I can be. Because to be the best I can is my dream.