-Hannah Richards, Contributing Writer
Condoleezza Rice. Jeb Bush. Carl Rove. Steve Forbes. Ben Carson. In the past eight years, these are just some of the men and women who have graced Mississippi College with their presence at the annual Spring Scholarship Banquet. During this time, Mississippi College has raised over $2.4 million that was funneled directly into scholarships. This year, as an incentive for their donation, attendees of the 2015 banquet were able to hear from former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Author of over 24 books and consistently heralded as the orchestrator of the “Republican Revolution,” Gingrich is well known for his strong political rhetoric as well as for being the Time Magazine “Man of the Year” in 1995. His strong leadership of the Republican Party led them to a balanced national budget in 1998 and consistently lower capital gains taxes.
It is because of this resume that the Spring Scholarship Banquet was, once again, such a success, raising over $300,000 in one evening. In attendance were many notable public figures and civil servants such as Congressman Gregg Harper, Mississippi College alumnus. Leland Speed and Ray and Betty Hannah, all of whom have academic and social buildings on campus named in their honor, were also in attendance. Governor Phil Bryant, another Mississippi College alumnus, was in attendance and provided an introduction to the keynote speaker, Gingrich.
While his resume and public service accomplishments are many, Gingrich’s appearance at Mississippi College showed a rarer side of the well known figure. During the media press conference, the student question and answer session held earlier in the day, and his keynote address, Gingrich consistently focused on several points, expressing how excited he was to be in a place where he could dialogue with college students about the future.
Gingrich touched on three different topics in his keynote speech. He first addressed the science and technology industry, using his iPhone as an illustration of how far we have come in the last few years, and how far we are likely to go. He stated that he is a strong believer that the field of science and technology can and will revolutionize the educational arena. In the student question and answer session before the scholarship banquet, sophomore student Jonathan Fletcher inquired as to what Gingrich thought were the next steps to be taken in education. His answer was succinct and honest: “Has anyone in this room been to Kahn Academy? That’s an example of the near future. Has anyone used Duolingo?…It has become a question of ‘do you want to learn?’ not ‘can you afford to learn?’” He also stated that he thinks that we will very soon see an “explosion in new opportunities and techniques in ways of educating people.” He hypothesized that “…college will change in very significant ways. It will be the place where you get to know each other and…where you have mentors, but you will have access to a worldwide learning system that will be almost universal.” During his speech, he referenced the new engineering department that Mississippi College is adding in the fall, praising the school’s foray into a field that is severely under-populated.
Another topic Gingrich touched on was the ever-present danger threatening America in the form of both Russia and China, as well as our constant clash with ISIS in the Middle East. He elaborated that he sees Americans taking the threat of ISIS much more seriously than the White House does. He added that in the case of the slaughter of Christian college students in Kenya and the targeting of Paris’s Jewish population, President Obama chose to refer to these as “senseless cases of random violence” when they were the exact opposite of “random.”
When questioned about both Rand Paul and Jeb Bush and their campaign for the Republican Party nomination, former Speaker Gingrich expressed great confidence that the GOP will both nominate someone of quality and that they will win the presidency. He did however refuse to endorse any certain candidate, stating instead that “this race is more wide open that it has been in many years…” Gingrich informed his listeners that he has made personal friends of all the declared candidates; he is confident in their abilities and plans for America.
At the end of Gingrich’s address, he took pre-selected questions from the audience, moderated by Glen Antizzo, dean of the political science department. He tackled several questions dealing with voting blocs facing the GOP in 2016 and the possible American initiative of sending ground forces to combat ISIS, as well as questions about rejuvenation in decaying educational fields. His answers mostly reflected the same theme from his earlier speech, with great emphasis on the demand for visionary leadership both now and at the polling booths in 2016.
Gingrich seemed to satisfy the more than 500 guests, garnering two standing ovations. His vision for the future seemed to be one that many Southern conservatives would stand behind, causing many in the audience to wonder if he is attempting to place himself in the running for a vice presidential nomination after the GOP primary. It would explain his aversion to endorsing once candidate as well as him posturing himself as someone who can pull in a broad spectrum of votes. Either way, Gingrich has clearly not left politics—and many would argue leaving the political sphere altogether is nearly impossible.