Quips and Quotes: Finding Common Ground

Author: Sarah Cahalan '14

I say to my students all the time, ‘If you constantly find yourself in the company of people who say “amen” to everything you say, find other company.’ Because you might just learn something from them. You might even learn that you’re not completely right. So try and put yourself in the company of people with whom you don’t agree. — Condoleezza Rice ’75M.S.

It’s safe to say that when George W. Bush-era Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took the stage at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC) last week alongside Barack Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry, she was following the advice she laid out here. 


The two former secretaries came to campus on March 19 for “Finding Common Ground on America’s Role in the World,” a forum sponsored by BridgeND and the bipartisan political nonprofit Common Ground Committee. Though they hail from opposite sides of the political aisle, Rice and Kerry found much to agree on in the course of their hour-long conversation. The discussion, moderated by diplomatic correspondent Howard LaFranchi of the Christian Science Monitor, ranged from climate change to North Korea to the global rise of populism, and while the former top diplomats occasionally differed on specifics, they managed — as the event title suggests — to find an admirable amount of common ground. 


At a time of increasing political polarization, both speakers raised the need to share opinions and have conversations across the partisan divide. Rice mentioned that, among the small group of living veterans of the Secretary of State’s office, such cross-party collaboration is common, with the sitting secretary often reaching out to his or her predecessors — Republican or Democrat — before making major decisions. The camaraderie of this shared experience was especially evident between the two secretaries on stage at the DPAC: Near the end of the night, Kerry joked to enthusiastic applause that the two of them should run for president together in 2020. 


One of the only major disagreements between the two came in the first moments of the talk, on the topic of gridiron loyalties. Secretary Rice, who has a master’s degree in government and international studies from Notre Dame, opened her remarks with, “Do I at least get to say, ‘Go Irish’?” Secretary Kerry's response was simply that he’d “get in trouble” if he expressed his football views on stage — he’s an alumnus of Boston College.


Sarah Cahalan is an associate editor of this magazine.