STARKVILLE, Miss.--Former governor William Winter told Mississippi State graduates Saturday they must spend the rest of their lives seeking "the highest office" to which anyone may aspire.
Mississippi's chief executive 1980-84, Winter was featured speaker for the university's morning and afternoon commencement programs in Humphrey Coliseum.
"I had the high privilege of serving as governor of this state and I do not intend to diminish the significance of that office when I tell you that it is not the most important office in Mississippi," the veteran politician said. "The most important office is that of citizen."
In both state and national constitutions, "citizen is an office," he said. "It does not have term limits, you hold office for life and it is the office that transmits all political authority.
"Only through the collective judgment of private citizens, acting through their elected agents, are the public decisions made that affect the ultimate quality of our lives," he added.
During the morning event, an honorary doctor of science degree was awarded to Fred E. Carl Jr. of Greenwood, founder, president and CEO of the nationally recognized Viking Range Corp. A major university benefactor, the one-time MSU architecture major endowed a statewide community design outreach program in 1979 that was renamed the School of Architecture's Carl Small Town Center in his honor.
More than 2,200 MSU students were spring degree candidates.
"Whether we recognize it or not, whether we want to accept it or not, all of us are parties to a contract that was entered into by our forebears a long time ago," Winter said. "That contract was expressed in the words of the Declaration of Independence, when we pledged to each other 'our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.'"
Winter, long recognized as a student of state and national history, said the three-part phrase was "not intended to be idle words."
"They bind us today just as surely as they bound those who wrote them," he continued. "If anything, their significance is greater now than it was then because the world is smaller now and more dangerous, the issues are more complex, the stakes are higher."
Winter pointedly told the graduates that they "cannot live in isolation from each other and must find ways to give real meaning to that contract that we have with each other."
Returning to his original charge, Winter said that, whatever career aspirations individuals may have, "the reality is that most of us are going to find our highest levels of fulfillment and satisfaction in association with our families and our neighbors in the communities where we live.
"It is here that we affirm not our individual independence but our mutual interdependence, it is here we build the social bridges that make a strong, vibrant and more just society," he said.
Winter today is senior partner in a prominent Jackson-based law firm. Before holding the state's highest office, the Grenada native served several terms in the Mississippi House of Representatives. He subsequently was elected state tax collector, state treasurer and lieutenant governor.
In recommending to the State College Board that Fred Carl receive the special honor, MSU President Mark Keenum praised the Leflore County businessman's "accomplishments as founder and CEO of Viking Range Corporation, as the chief architect in the revitalization of his hometown of Greenwood and as a friend of higher education through his extensive service to the College of Architecture, Art and Design at Mississippi State."
Keenum also said Carl "has lived his life making a difference in the lives of thousands of people."
Viking Range, which Fred Carl established in the 1980s, is an international manufacturer of professional kitchen appliances specifically designed for home use. From Greenwood, the company now produces a complete range of kitchen products, including small appliances.
Carl also has created numerous municipal development initiatives. His achievements have received major recognitions by such diverse entities as the U.S. Small Business Administration, Kitchen & Bath magazine and the Mississippi Development Authority, among others.