Thursday, May 4, 2006
Congressman motivates Rust College graduates
By BARRY BURLESON
Congressman Roger Wicker urged Rust College graduates Sunday afternoon to persevere, be prepared for both success and failure, give back and show gratitude.
Wicker was the guest speaker for the 140th commencement at the W.A. McMillan Multi-Purpose Center.
He said the task before him was challenging because of the rich history of Rust College, dating back to its establishment in 1866, and all it represents. Rust is the oldest predominately African-American college in Mississippi, the second oldest private college in the state and the longest surviving of all the historically black colleges and universities associated with the United Methodist Church.
Wicker stressed four points.
First, he said, “You have a lot to live up to.”
“You have a lot of people to thank, certainly your family and faculty, but also those who have gone before you who you never met because they either predeceased you or came and went before your time. We can learn a lot from them.”
Wicker praised Rust’s promotion of cultural, spiritual and moral values, and he quoted a scripture from Hebrews,
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
The passage, he said, refers to such Biblical heroes as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Rahab and David and “encourages us to live up to their example.”
Wicker cited others who would urge Rust graduates to persevere would be Rev. S.O. Shaw, who in 1867 donated $10,000 and supplied the college its first building and its first name - Shaw College; Richard S. Rust, secretary of the Freedman’s Aid Society whose name the college has born for 114 years; and Hiram R. Revels, the first black United States senator “in the history of our Republic” and the first Republican U.S. Senator ever from Mississippi.
Secondly, Wicker said, “Because your opportunities are immense, success is almost inevitable and so is failure. Be prepared for both.”
He said Bureau of Labor estimates that those graduating with a bachelor’s degree today can expect to earn $2.1 million during a 40-year career. That is $900,000 more than Americans with only a high school diploma.
“Our economic system is the best in the world,” Wicker said. “because it is market-driven, involving competition and risk. That means we have the opportunity to make it big-time but also to fall on our faces.”
He called America the land of second chances and more.
Wicker said Henry Ford went broke five times before he succeeded with the Model T, and Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
“There is no better place to give it the old college try than right here in the United States of America,” he said. “Those of you who work hard and keep your chins up are almost sure to do well.”
Thirdly, he told students that making a good living is much to be desired; but the shame would be to “keep it all for yourself.”
“As you move beyond college, your obligation to give back to society increases,” Wicker said. “This is scriptural and as American as apple pie.”
Quoting Jesus, he said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required.”
He stressed that Mississippi leads the nation in generosity, according to statistics from the Internal Revenue Service.
“If volunteerism is ‘quintessentially American,’ then Mississippi is indeed the national model,” Wicker said.
His final thought focused on graduation day and the expression of gratitude to parents and grandparents for their love and support. He suggested giving them “an extra squeeze for their part in handing over to you the greatest society that has ever existed.”
Wicker said no generation on the face of the earth has enjoyed the level of prosperity, openness, security and freedom that the Class of 2006 will soon inherit.
“Our founders provided the essential structure and the guiding principles,” he said. “The struggles, sacrifices and blood of generation after generation have kept for us that Constitutional republic - a unique and marvelous system of self-government.”
He told Rust graduates to pay honor to their elders for this magnificent accomplishment, and he issued a final challenge.
“What will you do as the heirs of this great and lasting experiment in freedom? Pass it on to the next generation a little better than you received it,” Wicker said.
Dr. David Beckley, president of Rust College, introduced Wicker. He called him “a friend who looks beyond political affiliation.”
Beckley also welcomed parents, alumni and friends. He congratulated the 95 graduates for reaching this milestone in their lives “after many years of hard work, toil and tribulation” and later conferred degrees.
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