Former U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice made a lasting mark on a special group of high school seniors when she shared seven helpful tips on how to take full advantage of their college careers. Dr. Rice took the podium at the annual Coca-Cola Scholars Banquet on April 3 to share powerful life lessons and valuable insights to the 2014 class—a group of 150 graduating high school seniors selected as young leaders to shape a better future.

“You are about to enter the ranks of the educated people, and there are special responsibilities that come with education and its transformative power,” Dr. Rice said during her keynote remarks, challenging each Scholar to take responsibility in shaping the future of democracy throughout the world.  

Coca-Cola Scholars

The 26th class of Coca-Cola Scholars.

“[The Coca-Cola Scholars Program] accepts responsibility for making certain that the next generation will have within it educated people who come from all walks of life and all circumstances, who understand it really doesn’t matter where you came from… it matters where you’re going,” she added.

Founded in 1986 to mark the centennial anniversary of The Coca-Cola Company, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation has since awarded more than 5,400 scholarships valued at more than $54 million. This year, a total of 150 $20,000 scholarships were awarded to remarkable young people from 43 states.

A Taste of Humble Pie

Growing up in Birmingham Ala., Dr. Rice never imagined one day becoming the U.S. National Security Adviser, much less the 66th Secretary of State and the first African-American woman to hold that position. Her grandfather, John Wesley Rice, Sr., instilled this sense of humbleness—as well as a passion for learning—in her family. A sharecropper’s son, he was determined to enroll in Stillman College in Alabama, paying his first year’s tuition with cotton he had harvested. He eventually accepted a scholarship to become a Presbyterian minister, even though it wasn’t part of his original plan.

“He knew that education would transform him into something he wouldn’t otherwise have ever been,” Dr. Rice said. “And that, Scholars, is what you are about to experience—that transformative power of education,” she told the more than 900 attendees at the Coca-Cola Scholars Banquet.

Dr. Rice offered these seven tips for taking full advantage of the college experience:

1. Don’t Take Your Education for Granted

A chance to have the transformative power of education doesn’t belong to everyone. There are people just as smart and just as capable who are not going to get the same chance. Never take for granted what you are about to do.

2. Find Your Passion

Don’t approach your education worrying about a specific major or thinking about what job you’ll find in the future. Instead find your passion. Find what makes you get up every day and do that. And for some, your passion might just find you.

3. Try Something Hard

If you’re really good at writing and humanities, take math. If you’re really good at math do some writing, take humanities. You may find you get more fulfillment out of doing things that are hard for you than just continuing to do what comes easily. And then when you meet hard tasks along the way you will be glad that you have taught yourself, that you accomplish something hard.

4. Get to Know Faculty

Get to know your faculty. Find somebody who you think “I’d like to get to know that person”. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and don’t wait for them to come to you. In your faculty you’ll sooner or later find a mentor, somebody who will advocate for you and show you the ropes. (Take it from the Professor herself).

5. Learn Other Cultures

Study abroad or to take foreign languages because there is nothing like getting to know other people’s culture. We’re different, and that’s what makes the world an exciting place.  There is also nothing more humanizing then knowing other people and how they live.

6. Reach Out to Others

Make sure you reach out to others. It’s your responsibility to make sure that there are now weak links. Go and help a child who is trying to learn to read, volunteer at a Boys and Girls Club or help an elderly person who perhaps has no one to visit. By doing this you will never feel entitled. In place of asking “why don’t I have?” you will begin to ask “why do I have so much?”  There is no greater joy than seeing the smile on the face of somebody that you’ve helped.

7. Return What You Learn

Take this time to make the most of this journey and then take what you have learned and return it to make us all a stronger, collective, democratic society dedicated to each other and determined that the world will be not as it is but as it should be.