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‘Create your own legacies,’ Washington official tells Livingstone students

By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
As staff director for the Committee on Homeland Security, I. Lanier Avant knows that someone’s always watching.
It’s something Livingstone College students should realize now, even before they set out to make their marks on the world, Avant said Wednesday.
“The way you treat people today is the way you’re remembered tomorrow,” he told the crowd gathered for the college’s Dr. Samuel E. Duncan Honors Convocation in Varick Auditorium.
“… Nothing you do goes unnoticed. Somebody is always watching, and that’s something you have to take with you on a daily basis.”
Avant has remembered his own advice while working his way toward the power center of government in Washington, D.C., where he also serves as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss.
In the 110th Congress, Avant managed an agenda of more than 130 hearings looking at operations in the Department of Homeland Security.
Biographical notes on Avant say he has strengthened the committee’s relationships with the House leadership, department officials, private industry, labor, academics and various advocacy groups.
Raised in Crenshaw, Miss., Avant earned an undergraduate degree in economics from Jackson State and his law degree from Howard University ó both historically black colleges.
“(But) Washington, D.C., isn’t who I am,” Avant said.
He told the Livingstone students Wednesday he wouldn’t change a thing about his four years of college at Jackson State, not even the time he had to start his own underground publication when the student newspaper refused to run one of his editorials.
In his Homeland Security committee position, Avant deals routinely with issues such as high-tech cyber crime, piracy on the high seas, terrorism, hijacking, immigration and natural disaster responses.
It’s an area needing a new category of leaders who can bring fresh ideas to the table, Avant said.
Livingstone College is one of the historically black colleges which can supply the people needed, he suggested. Livingstone graduates and others also can help diversify the federal workforce “and make it look more like America,” he said.
One of the challenges of historically black colleges, Livingstone College President Jimmy R. Jenkins said, is to show their students role models ó samplings of people who come from the same educational backgrounds who make their marks as business, government, faith and community leaders.
“We have a young man here who is at the center of the power of our country,” Jenkins said.
Avant said the education students are receiving at Livingstone is different, and something they should appreciate.
“You’re prepared for a lot more than you might give yourselves credit for,” he said.
Avant urged the students to commit themselves to making a difference in the lives of others as they embark on their careers.
He said working at companies such as IBM and Fed Ex can be rewarding, but the graduates leaving Livingstone also should consider adding value to the world as local, state and federal leaders.
“A lot of local, effective leaders come from this school,” Avant said, describing Livingstone as a place fostering values, intellect, balance, commitment and leadership.
When the House committee chairmen and their staff directors meet weekly in Washington, the 45 people or so represent a “real power center” in government, Avant said.
When he first joined that group, there were three blacks in the room. Now there are eight.
It’s a sign of some progress, Avant said, but he otherwise described a “real shortage” of leaders in Washington today.
One doesn’t need a title or veto power to be a leader, Avant said. It only takes an opinion, he suggested.
“Once we get to the marketplace of ideas, hopefully, the better ideas will win out,” he added. “… Remember your legacies, and go out and create your own legacies.”
Avant said he spent Tuesday night on campus and met with student leaders, faculty and administration officials who are committed “to turning out a good product.”
One of the students Avant met was Eugene Brown, to whom he offered an internship in the Homeland Security office this summer.
The convocation crowd applauded as Avant made the announcement and Brown joined him at the podium.
“You can make it, you just have to keep focused,” Jenkins told the students later.
The honors convocation recognized many students with numerous awards for the 2008-2009 school year.
The Category One Institutional Awards were voted on by the faculty.
The student winners of these institutional awards were:
– The Lamp of Knowledge ó La’Courtney Setzer, a graduating senior who had the highest grade-point average over four years.
– College Achievement Award for leadership ó Chelsea Johnson, for an outstanding single contribution in any field during the school year.
– E. Moore Award ó Kyle Blackwell, in recognition of intellectual attainment, high character, service to the college, initiative, efficiency and high ideals.
– Dr. J.T. Williams Award ó Chad Mitchell. The award goes to a male in the junior class who best exemplifies scholarship, excellent character and good citizenship.
– Jennie Harris-Williams Memorial Award ó Chantel Green. The award goes to a female in the junior class who best exemplifies scholarship, character and high ideals.
– Abbie Clement-Jackson Award ó Chelsea Johnson, named the student who has contributed most to the campus toward bringing about better human relations.
– Lula Montgomery Award ó the Livingstone Concert Choir, the organization making the most outstanding contribution to the college.

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