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Gov. Bill Lee speaks to stu­dents | External Affairs

Stu­dents of the Van Andel Graduate School of States­manship hosted Ten­nessee Gov. Bill Lee Friday night for their annual President’s Day banquet. Lee spoke about his life, policies, and the impor­tance of faith in God. 

Lee opened his remarks by telling the crowd about his time on campus so far, which included touring the school, meeting with stu­dents from Ten­nessee, and sitting in on Pres­ident Larry Arnn’s States­manship of Winston Churchill class. He also noted the special holiday. 

“It’s a little intim­i­dating to be Valentine’s Day date night,” he said with a laugh. “Not sure how that hap­pened.”

The gov­ernor talked about his appre­ci­ation for the ideas the graduate stu­dents spend their time studying. 

“I’m proud of the tra­dition of cel­e­brating states­manship here,” he said. “Our country’s been blessed with statesmen, and I don’t think it’s a coin­ci­dence that God put the right people in place at the right time for our country.”

Lee said many of the his­torical figures who inspire him are fea­tured on Hillsdale’s Liberty Walk, and he attempts to model his deci­sions after them.

“I passed Ronald Reagan out there,” he said. “I thought about his com­mitment to restoring our appre­ci­ation for freedom and indi­vidual liberty.”

Lee is the 50th gov­ernor of Ten­nessee and pre­vi­ously served as the CEO and pres­ident of his mechanical appliance family business, Lee Company, where he super­vised 1,200 employees. 

Pres­ident of the Graduate Student Society Russell Richardson is a Ten­nessean and intro­duced Lee to the group. 

“We spend a lot of time studying pol­itics by reading and dis­cussing the great political works of the past,” he said. “Rarer are oppor­tu­nities to learn about states­manship from those prac­ticing it today.”

The annual banquet has pre­vi­ously fea­tured pro­fessors and scholars, but this is the first year an elected official has spoken.

Sophomore Sascha Stein­hausler is a lifelong res­ident of Ten­nessee and met with the gov­ernor before the banquet.

“He’s incredibly honest and straight­forward,” she said. “No matter what he’s talking about, if he believes it’s right, he’ll go for it.”

She said she appre­ciates his will­ingness to support policies, even if they are polit­i­cally harmful, like his con­tro­versial school voucher bill, which gives stu­dents in failing schools $7,200 to attend private schools. 

Lee spoke at length about this issue and his com­mitment to “engage stu­dents in an edu­ca­tional system that gives them oppor­tunity.”

According to sta­tistics cited by Lee, one in three stu­dents born into poverty don’t finish high school, and if one doesn’t finish high school, they are highly likely to stay in poverty. 

“Low-income stu­dents deserve the exact same oppor­tunity that every other kid does,” he said. “When parents have choices, their children not only have better out­comes but the entire system begins to be trans­formed.”

The gov­ernor praised Hillsdale for its com­mitment to private schools with the Barney Charter School Ini­tiative. 

“This insti­tution has been instru­mental in devel­oping charter schools across the country,” he said. 

Lee spoke about several other pri­or­ities his admin­is­tration is working on throughout the dinner, including voca­tional training, prison reform, incor­po­rating refugees into his state, and pro­tecting the unborn. 

In January, Lee announced he will propose sweeping new pro-life leg­is­lation to the Ten­nessee leg­is­lature later this year. The bill will include requiring a mother to receive an ultra­sound and not allowing abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. 

Sophomore Jack Coker, who is also from Ten­nessee, said he appre­ciates Lee’s com­mitment to vote his con­science on issues like pro­tecting the unborn, despite being unpopular. 

“He’s a man of really strong char­acter,” Coker said. “He had to do what he believed was right, and I really appre­ciate that.”

In the Searle Center, dec­o­rated with large paintings from the rev­o­lu­tionary era, including the famous “Wash­ington Crossing the Delaware” piece, Lee closed his remarks with encour­aging stu­dents to pursue God and follow the “north star” as they finish their studies and go on to serve the country.

“My prayer for you is that you truly seek God for his wisdom,” he said. “He desires to show you the highest call for your life because He’s equipped you for it.”

The crowd met his remarks with applause and many stu­dents went up to him afterward to shake his hand and ask for auto­graphs. With each sig­nature, he noted a bible verse, Psalm 71:14, fol­lowed by his name. 

As he pre­pared to head back home, Lee said he was impressed by the college and the student body, and that he left encouraged. 

“What a beau­tiful and inspiring place,” he said. “This is a very fine group of people and it gives me great hope for the future of our country.”