Stennis Lecture Series Speech

Stennis Lecture Series

2005 speech by Glenn McCullough, Chairman, Tennessee Valley Authority

It is a singular honor to be with you today because Senator John C. Stennis set the standard for excellence in public service.

Your participation in this program is evidence of your calling to public service by sharpening your leadership skills, learning more about the process of community and economic development, and making new friends.

People who achieve extraordinary success do so in part because they are called to the opportunity. They are willing and able to master.

Along with Senator Stennis you share a calling to serve people.

As a state representative, prosecuting attorney, and U.S. Senator, John C. Stennis answered the call to serve people.

The lessons he learned as a child…from his father who was a Kemper County farmer and merchant, from his mother who taught him to always look his best and to do his best, and from his three sisters who practiced their “school teaching” on him served him well.

Senator Stennis placed great importance on education or “framing” once commenting that his mother and father missed a college education because of “the war” meaning the Civil War.

In the fall of 1919, Senator Stennis stepped off the train at Mississippi A & M where he would excel academically and socially sharpening leadership skills that would become legend.

A life of character

While Senator Stennis was blessed with exceptional intellect, energy, and determination to excel, his life was one of strong character.

To fulfill our calling, we can learn from the life of Senator Stennis that to influence, to teach, to lead, we must live a life of sound character.

President Reagan said at a dinner honoring Senator Stennis, “You have demonstrated for all of us that one man, committed to God and country, willing to work hard and sacrifice personal gain and comfort, can make a difference.”

His character was best described in his creed that, “I will plow a straight furrow right down to the end of the row.” And he did.

In 1985, the New York Times said of Senator Stennis, “He is the undisputed patriarch of the Senate, a teacher to the younger members and conscience of the entire institution. He seldom makes national headlines but wields considerable influence in the Senate and that influence comes from the quality of his personal judgment.”

To fulfill our calling, our character like that of Senator Stennis must be founded on integrity, courage, dedication to duty, and hard work…values that endure.

In his final re-election campaign in 1982, Senator Stennis faced the toughest challenge since his election to the Senate in 1947. Campaign consultants advised him repeatedly, “to win, we have to do this.” Senator Stennis listened patiently finally seizing the moment by politely raising his hand. A hush fell over the room and the Senator said, “There is one thing you really must understand before we go any further”—as he looked each one in the eye, “and that is…we do not have to win.”

During 60 years of public service, his name, reputation, his character was on the ballot 13 times—Senator Stennis never lost.

That strength of character that shown so brightly in the U.S. Senate serves equally as well in the classroom of life.

A man of vision

People follow leaders who can see what the future can become.

Senator Stennis had a vision for Mississippians. From the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), to the U.S. Navy, to NASA, Senator Stennis saw an exciting future of opportunity for Mississippians and for our nation.

The Senator always referred to Mississippi’s western boundary as the “Big River” and he brought balance to our state with the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway to the east. The Tenn-Tom Waterway has attracted over $5 billion in industrial development along its 4-state corridor connecting the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and Americans to outer space through the John C. Stennis Space Center. Over 60,000 men and women are employed by industries that rely on the Tenn-Tom Waterway.

Vision to see what can be creative thinking, knowledge, and inspiration in the U.S. Senate or at your community college are the seeds for a higher future.

A natural leader

As a cheerleader at Mississippi A & M, Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Virginia Law School, as Chairman of the Armed Services and Appropriations Committees in the U.S. Senate, Senator Stennis was a leader. A leader who always gave the best of himself and brought out the best in others.

Senator Stennis answered the call to serve people with character, vision, and leadership that endures for generations to come.

Senator Stennis “plowed a straight furrow all the way to the end of the row” while planting seeds of opportunity for the people he served.

Senator Stennis wrote his final chapter in his extraordinary life of public service as a teacher at Mississippi State University.

You, as educators are called to teach inspiring students to learn enabling them to seize the opportunities of the future.

“Opportunity will never chase you around the square. It will never meet you in the road and force itself upon you. Opportunity really only lies within the grasp of those who are willing and able to meet it at least halfway.”—John C. Stennis Mississippi A & M Commencement 1932

Seventy-three years later, those words are just as true.

God bless you.