The 2017 United States Senate Youth Program Republican Co-Chair Senator Roger F. Wicker is in his second term in the U.S. Senate. He truly exemplifies a life of public service. Before becoming a senator, he was elected seven times to the U.S. House representing Mississippi’s First Congressional District, served in the Mississippi State Legislature, and was on active duty in the U.S. Air Force and the Air Force Reserve, retiring in 2004 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
What became apparent during the opening dinner of Washington Week 2017, is that this senior member of the Republican leadership team is also a passionate student of history. Taking the microphone off the podium and moving deftly among the delegates, Senator Wicker began by peppering them with questions about key dates: 1492, 1776, 1787. The students had no problem with these. But, he said, “They get harder – 1783?” This was the year George Washington resigned his commission as general of the Continental Army, he told them, establishing civilian control of the military and flatly rejecting the assumption of anything like the monarchal title of king. “Washington basically said, ‘We haven’t fought this whole time just to have another king. We are different over here, and here our people are going to choose their leaders.’ This was really an astounding thing that nobody else was doing anywhere in the world at that time.”
Key Latin phrases were on the docket next: E pluribus unum, Annuit coeptis and Novus ordo seclorum were eagerly deciphered. The last phrase, translated as “A new order of the age” held the senator’s focus. He admired the audacity of the Founders who said “’We are the order of the new age’. When you go to the monuments and to the Capitol, and see the symbols of our great history, remember that we are quite fortunate to stand on the shoulders of remarkable people, who decided to do things differently – who decided to let the people speak – now, people in every corner of the world yearn to have something like the new order that we set forward in 1787.”
The senator’s first question from the audience reflected the Latin lesson, noting that our nation seems more “pluribus” than “unum” in the current polarized environment. Senator Wicker hoped that when all is said and done, we will all identify as American, finding common ground. He shared his insight from the international perspective he gains as chair of both the Helsinki Commission and the Seapower Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Relaying his efforts to eradicate tropical diseases as part of the Malaria No More organization, he recalled being in Tanzania in 2015 and seeing large banners praising President George W. Bush for early U.S. AIDS relief programs which “saved millions of lives and made me proud. ” Efforts like this are “A way to tell the world that we mean to do good.” But, he cautioned, we can only be a strong leader in the world if our own house is in order. “The things that we do about our economy, the decisions we make about our budget, do affect our ability to be a shining light for the rest of the world.” He ended pragmatically, after again congratulating the delegates, “So I choose to think that we can take care of business at home and take care of our citizens, but as the superpower in the world, we have no choice but to think on an international basis, and to realize that we’re part of its leadership.”
Mississippi delegate Braeden Foldenauer, who had the opportunity to introduce his home state senator to fellow delegates, reflected on the impact of Washington Week’s inspirational speakers, saying “Before my time in Washington, I often found myself caught up in cynicism, wondering to myself if I could actually affect change hailing from rural Mississippi. As a first-generation college student, I felt like my options were limited, but Washington Week illuminated the world for me. I walked away with passion coursing through my veins, and my experience made me ready to tackle the world head on. What was once fear and apprehension is now enthusiasm and a burning desire to go out and make an impact.”
© Photos by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin