By Maria Saporta
Georgia Tech pulled out all the stops when it honored former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn with the inaugural Ivan Allen Prize for Social Courage on Tuesday.
Not only was Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed present to give a talk saying that both former Mayor Allen and Sen. Nunn had served as an inspiration for him.
Then both of Georgia’s U.S. senators — Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss — gave their good wishes to Nunn via a pre-taped video.
And then President Barack Obama appeared on screen thanking Nunn “on a very personal level” for being available when the president sought his advice and vision.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Nunn said in a speech after accepting the prize, which comes with a $100,000 award.
Saying that no one can be a success on one’s own, Nunn then turned his attention to his wife, Colleen. “I think she should fully share this honor with the possible exception of the monetary part of it,” Nunn joked.
Then Nunn turned serious — talking about the courage that Mayor Allen demonstrated during the 1960s when he was a beacon among Southern politicians in supporting integration and the Civil Rights movement.
Nunn also credited Martin Luther King Jr. for his fearless leadership in calling for non-violent social change. In Nunn’s eyes, both Allen and King passed the courage test.
“Will America pass this test today?” Nunn asked rhetorically. “Our nation must make fundamental changes.”
First, the United States must put its fiscal house in order, Nunn said. “Our fiscal policy is out of control,” he said. “It weakens our economy and threatens our economic future.”
Second, the United States needs to finally adopt a sustainable energy policy — a feat that the nation has been unable to accomplish in decades.
Lastly, the country needs to recommit to education — particularly in math and sciences.
“Our leading role in math, science and engineering is eroding,” Nunn said. “China already is graduating more English-speaking engineers than we are in the United States.”
Nunn also lamented the lack of civility in today’s political environment. Civility does not mean eliminating passion and debate from out discourse,” Nunn said. But it does mean “listening with a genuine desire to understand.”
Nunn then urged everyone attending the Founder’s Day lunch at the Biltmore to thank our elected leaders who are willing to take courageous stands.
Nunn said we need to thank Gov. Nathan Deal for being “thoughtful and careful on immigration.” We need to thank Mayor Reed for working on pension reform. We need to thank Sen. Isakson for not taking his party’s line when he voted in favor of the nuclear arms control treaty with Russia.
Other people Nunn said we should thank are Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of the fiscal commission that recommended ways to reduce the nation’s deficit. And he also said Sen. Chambliss and Sen. Mark Warner deserve our thanks for their good faith effort on a bi-partisan plan to reduce the federal deficit.
“Noticing political courage is very important,” Nunn said.
And that’s exactly what Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts did when it honored Nunn this week.