Rubbing Elbows

10,000 Hours: DC native is a foreign policy expert


Illustra­tion by
Peter Hoey

Illustration of Susan Rice

Even as a little girl, Susan Rice, distinguished visiting research fellow at the School of International Service, was fascinated with the way the world worked. "I remember the assassinations in '68 and the riots in DC, Watergate, and the Vietnam War. Those things were fundamental parts of my childhood. I knew I cared about policy and the public sector from an early age." As an adult, the former US ambassador to the United Nations and national security advisor to President Barack Obama has played an instrumental role in shaping it. 

1964: Born at George Washington University Hospital in DC. 

1979: Landed her first job in government as a summer page at the US House of Representatives. Spent next three summers interning on Capitol Hill. 

1982: Was high school valedictorian at National Cathedral School. Headed to Stanford, where
she met her future husband, Ian Cameron.

1986: Won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at the University of Oxford in England. Played on the women's varsity basketball team there with AU president Sylvia Burwell.

1988: Served as a foreign policy aide for Michael Dukakis's presidential campaign in between earning her master's and doctorate at Oxford.

1993: Joined the National Security Council (NSC) in the Clinton administration. Served as a director for international organizations and peacekeeping in the Office of Global and Multilateral Affairs. Focused on Bosnia, Haiti, Somalia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Cambodia, and other countries.

1995: Served as senior director for African affairs at the NSC. "We were working to advance the trading relationship with Africa, establish stronger democratic institutions, and help resolve conflicts that endured in places like Angola and Liberia."

1997: Became assistant secretary of state for African affairs. "President Clinton was interested in and committed to Africa. We were able to focus unprecedented attention on Africa and pass real legislation—the African Growth and Opportunity Act—which was renewed on a bipartisan basis during the Obama administration."

2002: Joined the Brookings Institution as a senior fellow. 

2004: Was a senior foreign policy advisor to presidential candidate John Kerry. 

First met Barack Obama. "We were introduced by a mutual friend. I was impressed—substantially—by his intellect, his knowledge of the world, his instincts and judgment on foreign policy, and his extraordinary abilities as a leader and a speaker. When he became a senator, I got to know him better. I was among the small group of outside folks that he would consult with on various foreign policy issues." 

2007: Became one of two people Obama tapped to help coordinate his external foreign policy team before he announced his presidential run. Served as a senior foreign policy advisor during the Obama campaign and transition. 

2009: Nominated and confirmed to be US ambassador to the United Nations. She says of the body: "Can't live without it, sometimes hard to live with it. I think it's critically important, and it's our job to make it stronger and more effective. I am not a basher; I am somebody who wants to make it better." 

2013: Became Obama's national security advisor. Met with the president daily to discuss the intelligence briefing and pressing issues. "One of the hardest things about the job is knowing a lot, much of which isn't good, and still being able to be effective in organizing and leading the bureaucracy to meet those challenges." 

2017: Named a nonresident senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and a New York Times contributing opinion writer. 

Decided to join AU (before she knew her friend Burwell was going to become its president). "It seemed to me an interesting, collegial place that is up-and-coming and has a diverse student body."