Esteemed bipartisan Senate luminaries have lead the United States Senate Youth Program (USSYP) as Co-Chairs for almost six decades. The March 2018 program saw groundbreaking Co-Chair senators at the helm. Senator Tim Scott, the first African American senator to represent South Carolina and Senator Angus King, the first Independent to serve in a Co-Chair role, addressed delegates in evening keynote speeches imparting wisdom and life advice.
Humor, passion and boundless energy coursed through the Grand Ballroom of the Mayflower Hotel as Senator Scott regaled the delegates with his against-the-odds life story and his core philosophies on leadership and service. Senator Scott’s personal journey to leadership was deeply compelling. “Under the rock of obstacles lives and breathes your greatest opportunities,” he said, quoting his mentor John Moniz, who, along with his powerful, hardworking single mother, pushed the young Scott to chart a course from drifting to purpose and ambition.
As his life of success in business and elected government took shape, he developed three guiding principles that he relayed to the students, the first being, “Failure is not fatal, if you refuse to quit. There are seeds of greatness in each and every one of us, and if we don’t stop in the process, amazing things are possible,” he explained. “Sometimes we stop in the midst of pain, we define what’s possible by the temporary nature of pain, and we may make a permanent decision we regret.”
His second tenet to live by was: “Stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.” He said, “We often take for granted how good we have it,” Senator Scott reminded the group. “I think it is incumbent upon all of us to take on the responsibility of reaching one person who is suffering and challenged and afraid, and doing something about it that is beyond yourself. When that happens, the world is better. Part of the greatness of this nation is our ability to do something for those who can do nothing in return for us,” he said, “and if we lose that special sauce, that glue of our democracy, the world loses as well.”
The third part of his message was: “Hold on to your dreams.” “Each and every one of us have dreams and aspirations that are incredibly important,” the senator intoned, “Much of my life today is the manifestation of dreams that I had when I was your age, so hold on to your dreams as if your life depends on it.”
Speaking on the Tuesday evening of Washington Week, Senator Angus S. King, Jr., Maine’s first Independent Senator spoke with eloquence, experience and a keen appreciation for history as he addressed the delegates against the formidable backdrop of the nation’s founding charters in the National Archives. He summed up the job of senator as “Applied history with a minor in communications,” and added his favorite Mark Twain quote to corroborate: “History doesn’t always repeat itself but it usually rhymes.”
Senator King counseled the students to continue studying history in college, “The more history you know, the more sense you can make of what’s going on, and the better decisions you will make because you’ll know how those decisions played out in the past.” The former two-term governor of the Pine Tree State spent his prepared remarks teaching the delegates the ten key points he wished someone had told him before going into politics, the first being: “Take your time.” “If you think about it, what do politicians do?” he asked, “They make the rules by which we all operate. Don’t you think it’s a pretty good idea to play the game a bit before you start making the rules?”
He advised the students to develop the pivotal leadership skills of “eloquent listening” and the ability of public speaking with authenticity and passion. “You must also have a true vision of what you want to accomplish before running for office,” he said, but added that it is essential to “Surround yourself with the very best people who are not afraid of telling you the truth.” Especially the higher the office, he emphasized, “You have to actively encourage people to tell you things that you need to hear, not what you want to hear.” In closing he imparted wisdom relevant to any career path, “If you have character, nothing else matters, and if you don’t have character, nothing else matters.”
Both Senators Scott and King gave generously of their time and wisdom to inspire a new generation of Senate Youth Program student leaders toward public good. As Senator Scott declared “My mission statement is to be a purveyor of hope,” he had the great hope that USSYP delegates would carry their dedication to public service into the future. Senator King closed his remarks with the stirring words of Abraham Lincoln reflecting on an unsettled time in history. “The occasion is piled high with difficulty. Therefore, we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew,” and Senator King had full faith that USSYP delegates could overcome any challenge history would present them.
© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin