Mississippi has produced some of the world's most significant artists, writers, politicians, business leaders and humanitarians. Though materially poor, our state has always been rich in human resources, and too much of that potential has left our state upon maturity. I believe that's changing, and the University of Mississippi's new leadership institute is just one example of how Mississippians are choosing to lead—not necessarily for someone somewhere else, but for Mississippi.
Having this new, privately-funded institute named after me was probably one of the most humbling experiences of my life, and I certainly didn't choose it. If fact, I was a bit uncomfortable with such an honor. When this leadership curriculum and facility was envisioned back in 1999, I told Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat that I'd lend my name to it on one condition - that he make sure this institute is not about the namesake. Rather, the Trent Lott Leadership Institute is about Mississippi. It's about making sure that Trent Lott is not the last U.S. Senate Majority Leader from our state, but one of many Mississippians destined for leadership positions in Mississippi's government or in our state's private sector. It's about producing leaders not just from Mississippi but for Mississippi.
Today I believe Mississippi finally is turning the corner. We're learning how to turn disadvantage into challenge, challenge into opportunity and opportunity into triumph. We're getting the attention of international business leaders because we're introducing ourselves to them. We're seeing significant investment in our state by international companies because we're asking. We're finally getting fair recognition for the kind of state we really are - a friendly place with great cities and counties to call home or to do business.
Most Mississippians agree that education is one of the basic keys to continuing our progress. We may disagree on where the focus should be right now - elementary, secondary or collegiate - but most Mississippians understand that education is critical for our state's continued development. This institute is an example of Mississippi's determination to improve its educational apparatus. It may well be that this program produces men and women who eventually hold public office at every level of government, or who bring new jobs to Mississippians with their entrepreneurial activities. It's something that can benefit our entire state and every citizen by nurturing and then keeping our leaders right here where they can do the most good.
Too many young people around our state still feel disadvantaged. They feel like education at a university is not for them, or that it's unattainable. They live in humble surroundings, and they think they could never be successful, much less lead. Well, I understand that feeling. My dad was a pipefitter who was killed in an automobile accident when I was young. My mother, a school teacher, did her best to raise me with the values of faith and family that most Mississippians share. We didn't have a lot of material blessings, but I believed, and still do, that America is unique among nations. It's not a place where success and leadership is a birthright. Neither success or leadership has anything to do with where - or to whom - we are born, but they depend on what we do thereafter. Leadership is not prominence or fame, or even the position one holds. Leadership is what we do for our nation, for our neighbors, our families, and, yes, at times it's what we do to improve our own lives and character.
If you are a young person who cares about Mississippi, our communities and our people, I encourage you to find a way to serve this state. The Leadership Institute at Ole Miss may be one way to pursue that. If not, I encourage you to set high standards in whatever endeavor or direction you choose. If you do, you'll be successful, and you'll lead. Chances are you won't be the first leader from Mississippi in your particular field, but you may be part of a historic new generation of Mississippians not satisfied with leading just anywhere, but determined to lead right here at home in Mississippi. 4/22/04
Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column. Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office)
I agree with a great deal of what Senator Lott says in this article, and I feel as though it supports in principle the JFP's stance on 'thinking globally but acting locally.' As young people, we sometimes do think that we have to leave the state to "make it." So many have shown this not to necessarily be the case.
There is so much good that can be done right from our hometown, and we may be just the one to get the ball rolling to really make a difference in our community.
- c a webb