U.S. Sen. Tim Scott gave a rousing motivational talk to hundreds of students at Stall High School in North Charleston on Tuesday, encouraging them to dream even bigger dreams.
Scott, Stall High Class of 1983, returned to his alma mater to express his thanks for how its teachers and administrators helped put him on a path that led him to become South Carolina’s first black Senator.
He used his homecoming to talk less about politics and more about the personal qualities and support system that helped him overcome life’s obstacles, including growing up in a single-parent home, failing half his freshman high school classes, and being thrown through a windshield during a wreck on Interstate 26.
“Some of the most important moments of my life happened at Stall High School,” he said. “Growing up in a single-parent household, I felt like much of my life was already predetermined for failure, and I acted the part.”
As he often has on the campaign trail, Scott talked about his struggles as a student. He noted that he often went to Principal Lynda Davis’ office, joking that “she was, in fact, at the time, the meanest principal in all of Charleston County.”
Scott said he came to appreciate how Davis’ providing structure and discipline was a form of love, a lesson that hit home after his Aug. 22, 1982, auto accident. “When the chips were down, you find out who is on your side.”
His talk was lively, as he often wandered into the audience, pointing out teachers and others, and using rhetorical skills reminiscent of the liveliest Sunday morning preachers.
Scott advised students to be careful who they chose as their friends, to consider themselves as “high potential” instead of “at risk,” and to realize that their best and brightest days are still to come.
Scott, who as a high school kid had hair and a nickname of “teet” because of his pronounced buck teeth, had one last piece of advice.
“The biggest mistake I made in life ... was having dreams in high school that were too small,” he said. “Whatever you think the best is that you can do, just double it.”
The students seemed to take his message to heart.
Janez Kelly, a junior who plays most of the sports that Scott played, said he liked how Scott talked about how the principal’s toughness “is basically love. ... Everything he was saying was important.”
Zack Farmer, Stall’s current student body president, liked Scott’s message that regardless of a person’s background, he or she still can make a difference. “I think that can inspire a lot of students here,” he said. “Don’t let circumstances hold you back.”
Ashley Haynes, a sophomore, said she appreciated what Scott said about having dreams. “He’ll be a great influence,” she said.
Students asked Scott questions on immigration, welfare reform, his entry into politics — even on whether he would run for president one day. Scott replied, “I sincerely don’t have in the back of my mind running for president. I like what I do now. ... If I do all that I’m supposed to do now, then the next step for me is becoming a preacher. I like that a lot.”
After his talk, Scott said he was not optimistic that Washington would put together a deal to avoid sequestration cuts on March 1. “Next Friday, the chances are about 99.9 percent that he will not avert what the president said he will avert,” he said.
“My doors are open. I’m having conversations with my friends on the left about what we can do to work together to allow us to find some solutions that do not include tax increases,” he said.
“You cannot tax yourself out of a spending problem, and one day we’ll wake up to that reality.”
On gun control, Scott noted that 41 gun laws were broken in Newtown, Conn., at last year’s Sandy Hook massacre. “The catastrophe would not have been averted, it seems, with more guns laws,” he said, but added that mental health changes and possible new gun laws should be on the table.
“If you could find a solution that saves lives,” he said, “I want to hear about it.”
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.