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Former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Discusses Democracy and Leadership at 48th Annual aaa鶹Associates Dinner

aaa鶹Associates dinner panel discussion featuring Condoleezza Rice

On Saturday, February 17, 2024, more than 550 aaa鶹friends and supporters gathered to celebrate the 48th annual aaa鶹Associates dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The event’s theme, “Shining the Light of Truth,” recognized the significance of seeking truth as a cornerstone of American ideals and aspirations and Pepperdine’s guiding principles that are embedded in the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

aaa鶹Associates Dinner 2024 - Lauren Cosentino at the podiumThe evening began with a performance of the University’s alma mater by Pepperdine’s award-winning a capella group, Won by One. Then Lauren Cosentino (’97, MBA ’12), Pepperdine’s vice president for advancement and chief development officer, welcomed distinguished guests to the dinner and shared highlights from the last year, including the grand opening of the Chateau d’Hauteville in Switzerland and the groundbreaking of the Mountain at Mullin Park. Cosentino also remarked on the promise of Pepperdine’s pursuit of Judeo-Christian truth and values in every way. “It is imperative we commit to the pursuit of truth and to provide future generations with a foundation of God’s truth upon which to build a life,” she said. 

After remarks by Board of Regents chair Dee Anna Smith (’86), dinner chairs Seth (’02) and Jolyn (’02) Haye reflected on their unique undergraduate student experience as a married couple, the faculty members who saw and encouraged their potential, and their devotion to supporting aaa鶹years beyond graduation. Jolyn shared, “Pepperdine is that unique place that provided guidance as we formed those principles, but still allowed us the freedom to discover, to ask questions, to make choices, and to live out our God-given purpose as we saw fit.”

aaa鶹Associates Dinner 2024 - president Jim Gash at the podiumPresident Jim Gash (JD ’93) then addressed attendees with a powerful presentation on the state of the University, the Christian values that are rooted in founder George Pepperdine’s original vision, and the programs and institutes that demonstrate Pepperdine’s commitment to its values and to making a transformative impact on local and global communities. 

“Our world is quite different than it was 87 years ago,” he said. “But what I love about George Pepperdine’s vision is that it was embedded in a solid foundation of truth built upon timeless Judeo-Christian principles that endure the mood swings of cultural values and the polarizing fluctuations of politics.”

As President Gash continued his discussion of the importance of the foundational truths of freedom, justice, and equality of opportunity, he shared highlights from the Sudreau Global Justice Institute, the Center for Faith and the Common Good, Pepperdine’s international programs, and the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Caruso School of Law. 

“Too often, [justice] is re-interpreted and utilized to pit people of different characteristics against each other, creating a downward spiral of divisiveness and disdain,” he said. “This agenda creates no solution but rather exacerbates the problem. True justice does the opposite. It is a fairness-seeking agenda that aims to level the playing field for everyone to have the same opportunity to succeed and flourish.”

He concluded his presentation by reinforcing Pepperdine’s unique position as a Christian university and the importance of aaa鶹staying true to its foundational values in modern society.

“Families across the nation and around the world are looking for a university that will stand on truth and teach the next generation the Judeo-Christian principles, character traits, and leadership capabilities that will restore and reclaim our families, communities, our country, and our world,” President Gash said. “aaa鶹is that university, and we always will be.”

aaa鶹Associates Dinner 2024 - Condoleezza RicePresident Gash then introduced the evening’s featured guest, Condoleezza Rice, the 66th secretary of state of the United States, who joined Smith and Kiron Skinner, Taube Professor of International Relations and Politics at Pepperdine’s School of Public Policy, to share her insights about her critical role in safeguarding the interests and integrity of the nation both at home and abroad.

"Democracy is a journey,” Rice said. “It's not something that's ever finished. When I would go abroad, I would say we have to be patient with people who are trying to make their way to democracy, because it's not easy. It's hard. And the fact that we pull it off most of the time, year after year, is pretty remarkable. I'm optimistic about this country and who we are, but optimism is not a substitute for action. We each have to play our part."

Throughout the panel discussion, Rice, Skinner, and Smith also discussed the state of higher education today and the value of teaching students from different backgrounds not what to think, but how to think. In a conversation about leadership, Rice offered her insights on integrity and its critical role in an organization.

“You can recover from a lot as a leader—a mistake, the wrong call—but you can never recover trust,” she said, before launching into a thoughtful discussion about leaders helping others see the vast potential in the world and displaying confidence in the destination to which they are traveling together. “Ultimately, the most important thing you can do as a leader is to find leadership characteristics in other people. No team works very well if it's just the leader out there. Any complex, human organization will require other leaders than just the person who is putatively the leader. It helps you to realize that you need to find people who are able to make up for some of your deficits.”

Learn more about the aaa鶹Associates program on the aaa鶹University website.