Susan Rice has a message for young voters at Penn.
“Look, if y’all don’t vote, I’m going to come up here and haunt every single one of you!” Rice said. “Everybody has to vote, and no one is more important than young people.”
The former national security advisor and former ambassador to the United Nations under former President Barack Obama sat down in an exclusive interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian on Tuesday afternoon.
Moments after she stepped off the Irvine Auditorium stage for her keynote conversation with Penn students and faculty, Rice spoke to the DP about why young people hold the key to America’s future, her favorite Joe Biden memories, and her new life outside government.
Rice, who is serving as a visiting fellow at Perry World House for the 2018-19 academic year, delivered a speech in front of assembled students, faculty, and outsiders as part of the program’s Fall Symposium, entitled “Competing Visions for the Global Order.”
The experienced diplomat, whose most recent spell in government ended after the election of Donald Trump, credited the “relentless” efforts of Perry World House in her decision to affiliate with Penn.
“They wouldn’t let me say no!” Rice joked. “You’re on the northeast corridor, it’s not so hard to get here — it’s all good.”
Rice also cited the newly established Penn Biden Center as a motivation for her involvement with the University, as some of her friends are involved in the initiative. Perhaps most importantly, Rice counts Biden himself as a friend due to their interactions when serving under the Obama administration.
“I love Joe Biden,” Rice said with a smile. “He and I have had a lot of laughs together and it really was great getting to work closely with him.”
Biden and Rice's offices shared a hallway during their time in Washington, Rice said, and the former vice president would often stop by her office on his way out of the building at night. Many long conversations ensued between the two, with Biden and Rice “shooting the breeze” at the end of the day.
Expanding on her earlier talk in Irvine, Rice said the United States is currently facing a variety of threats, but none was more pressing than the country’s internal divisions. She called on young people, and Penn students in particular, to play a crucial role in mending these gaps.
“It is so important for young people to be engaged, and it is so important for you to call B.S. on older people who are perpetuating and exploiting these divisions,” Rice said. “It’s really important that we get young, top-quality, and diverse talent [in the federal workforce] — now is the time more than ever that we need the best that our country has to offer.”
During her day at Penn, Rice expressed optimism that the solutions could be crafted by students, complimenting Penn's student body.
“I was impressed by the quality of the student questions and the diversity of the kids who asked the questions — it was striking to me,” Rice said.
Now that Rice is facing a career outside government for the foreseeable future, she is relishing the newfound freedom and diverse array of experiences that private life brings. Along with her work in academia, Rice was recently named to the Board of Directors for Netflix, where she hopes to learn from the perspective of the private sector.
“I spent a lot of time doing work that I love and I was grateful to do, but it was pretty all-consuming,” Rice said. “Now I am lucky: I only do what I want to do.”
With regard to her involvement at Penn, Rice regretted only having limited time on campus Tuesday — her daughter's back-to-school night meant she arrived early in the morning and returned to her home in the Washington, D.C. area that evening.
Rice added that her future role at Perry World House was still undetermined, but she expressed optimism that she would return to campus in either the winter or next spring.
“I hope at that time I have a little more flexibility in my schedule to get to spend some time with both faculty and students,” Rice said.
In a final message to Penn, she urged Quakers to take advantage of their college years in order to promote cooperation.
“You all are at a unique stage in your lives where you are forced to live and go to school with people you don’t necessarily agree with,” Rice said. “You should find people to discuss and debate with and you should foster that communication across boundaries that will make you more informed citizens.”
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