Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole Headlines MC Scholarship Banquet
April 1, 2008White House politics, virtues like sacrifice and courage, plus an assortment of funny one-liners were all part of former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole's speech at Mississippi College Monday.
After more than 500 guests watched the American political legend deliver his well-received remarks, Dole was at his best fielding questions from the MC audience.
When asked what 71-year-old Republican presidential candidate John McCain could do about trying to resolve concerns about his age, Dole joked: "I'll run as his vice president."
The 84-year-old former Kansas senator, who served with McCain for a decade on Capitol Hill, headlined MC's first spring scholarship banquet. The event attracted $211,000 in donations to exceed a goal of $200,000. It's an integral part of MC's $65 million "Growing the Vision" campaign for scholarships, academic needs and building projects. Announced in fall 2006, the MC campaign has raised more than $60 million.
During his evening speech at the B.C. Rogers Student Center and earlier during a press conference at Alumni Hall, Dole declared the presidential race is "very winnable"' for McCain when November's general election rolls around.
Now the counsel at a Washington law firm, the Kansan noted "the halo is fading a bit" for Democratic U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, who leads rival Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York in delegate counts and national polls. He notes Obama is strong in some sectors, calling him "the pied piper of the younger generation."
Still, McCain has solid support among independent voters, he said. Whether the candidate is Obama or Clinton, Dole is sure McCain will defeat either one in Mississippi in November.
Dole's support of the Republican Arizona senator goes back generations. Dole recalled he wore his bracelet when McCain was "a guest at the Hanoi Hilton," referring to his five-plus years as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam.
A tireless advocate for millions of American military veterans for years, Dole is familiar with the traumas and sacrifices of war. Twice decorated for heroism during World War II, Dole has stayed active in recent years as chairman of the National World War II Memorial. He invited the MC audience to visit the memorial in Washington, to witness the legacy of their sacrifice for freedom. For those who don't make the trip, Dole encouraged Mississippians to visit a hospital or nursing home to thank a veteran for their service.
Part of what journalist Tom Brokaw referred to as America's "greatest generation," Dole emphasized that Americans don't need to wear a uniform to make sacrifices or serve their country.
"Somebody is always making sacrifices," Dole told the crowd in Anderson Hall as they watched him on stage and on two giant video screens. It could be the sacrifice of parents sending their children to college or caring for a loved one in need, he said.
Dole's visit to 4,600-student MC "is an honor for us," President Lee Royce told news reporters at Alumni Hall. Royce referred to Dole "one of America's leading statesman," who remains "as witty and wise as ever."
During the banquet, Royce served in a new capacity: as the one who served up the audience's questions on a smorgasbord of topics to the guest speaker.
Dole was asked what he would have done differently against rival Bill Clinton in the 1996 presidential race. "I'd have won," Dole responded. A Kansas basketball fan, he also was asked to predict the outcome of this weekend's crucial basketball game between his alma mater and the University of North Carolina. Dole has mixed feelings. His wife, Elizabeth Dole is a North Carolina senator who is up for re-election. Still registered to vote in his native Kansas, Dole played it safe. "It will be a tough game," he said.
No matter the winner of this year's NCAA's "Final 4" or the battle for the White House, Dole sees education sticking around as the nation's No. 1 issue. That was the case when the Russell, Kansas native first entered Congress decades ago. "Education is our most important challenge in America."
He knows of the importance of education growing up in rural Kansas. He was floundering as a college student with barely passing grades when he first attended the University of Kansas. After going off to World War II and returning to campus with spinal and shoulder injuries, Dole learned to use his head. With hard work, he managed to make A grades.
Mississippi Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, an MC graduate, introduced the best-selling author, star of two Super Bowl commercials and political icon to the crowd. Members of the audience saluted Dole with a standing ovation, later stopped him for autographs and joined him for photo sessions. His MC visit lasted a little more than three hours.
Royce said the remarkable evening on the Clinton campus is the first in what should become an annual event for the Christian university. Members of the MC Board of Trustees, especially planning committee chairman Bill Sones of Brookhaven, help from an army of student volunteers, staff and others in the MC family made it all possible, he said.
Platinum sponsors to the event who donated at least $25,000 were Ruby Boyd Parker of Jackson, trustee Wayne Parker of Ridgeland, chairman and CEO of the LifeShare Foundation and Hattiesburg businessman Bobby Chain, who serves on the foundation board at MC, and trustee Dr. Sharon Martin of Jackson.
PHOTO: Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole at MC Scholarship Banquet