Former Sen. Richard Lugar spoke at the University of Indianapolis during the annual Symposium for Tomorrow’s Leaders, this time in celebration of the event’s 40th consecutive year. Five hundred high school juniors from 75 counties in Indiana convened in Ransburg Auditorium on Saturday, Dec. 3, to hear Lugar’s keynote address and “think together” about national ideas, according to the 84-year-old political veteran.
In anticipation of the day’s event, Lugar commented on the importance of holding the annual symposium.
“It’s very important because … it offers me a great opportunity to present ideas that I believe are very important for our country, as well as for our state,” he said, “and hopefully, to inspire some of the students to go into public life, to move ahead.”
When the event began, one student in particular was recognized for possessing this kind of inspiration. Drake Abramson, a senior at Thomas A. Edison Jr. Sr. High School, received the Richard G. Lugar Distinguished Student Leadership Award for founding ThinkBrave, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness for epilepsy.
Executive Director of the Lugar Academy Lara Mann presented Abramson’s award, noting his “upstanding personal conduct, strong work ethic and his commitment to excellence.”
After shaking hands with President Robert Manuel, former UIndy President Gene Sease and Lugar, Abramson accepted his award “on behalf of the 66,000 Hoosiers living with epilepsy,” Abramson said. After Abramson received his award, Manuel spoke about UIndy’s and other universities’ obligation to their students.
“This symposium is so important to us,” Manuel said. “It models the role we think higher education should play in the lives of young minds we’ve informed to take leadership positions in the community.”
Manuel then introduced Sease, who shared a story about having dinner with Lugar (who was a UIndy professor at the time) on the night that Lugar won the Senate seat.
“The prospective senator and I sat listening to the radio, watching the [election] returns as they came in. And all of a sudden, folks were saying, ‘We don’t know where he is,’” Sease said. “We knew where we were, but nobody knew quite where the prospective senator was.”
Sease explained that even as the newly elected senator, Lugar promptly arrived at class to teach the next morning, telling the journalists who had also come to the room that he appreciated the congratulations but needed to begin class. Sease said that he could “go on giving characteristics of this great man, but you’re about to hear one of the finest most able leaders this government has ever had.”
After Sease’s introduction, Lugar began his address with a preface for the content of the day’s speech.
“In this group, today, are leaders who are going to make an enormous difference in our cities, our counties, the state of Indiana and in our nation,” Lugar said. “This is why the message I have for you today will be rather grim and serious but hopefully a background of understanding of some of the issues that you are going to face.”
The first of these issues that Lugar spoke about was the current financial state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the fact that “only about half a dozen countries have ever met [their NATO obligations] consistently,” Lugar said.
Lugar extended this issue to Asia and the necessity of continuing to further relations with Asian nations, especially those between the United States and China.
The second issue Lugar brought up was the situation of cybersecurity and the looming possibility that nations have the ability “to break into the codes of people who are involved in business, healthcare or government.” He emphasized this situation’s threat to international communications as well as internal communications within the United States.
Lugar also talked at length about climate change and the validity that the issue should hold in the generations to come.
“In your lifetimes, as they stretch over the next, say, 40 years of time … you’re going to know whether climate change is real or not,” Lugar said. “You’re going to have to face the implications of [climate change] … as rivers rise or disappear, as the case may be, or as all sorts of casualties come about because of potential climate change.”
Lugar’s address then moved into conversation about the reality of constant conflict in the Middle East. Lugar focused mostly on recognizing the influence that dictators and tribes have on the governmental processes in the countries of the Middle East. In essence, he said that many parts of these countries have been rendered “ungovernable” and are easily transmuted into “caliphates of ISIS.” Lugar said that in this world full of conflict, “[future leaders] are going to need a great deal more skill in diplomacy as well as battle tactics.”
Other issues that Lugar discussed during his address were improving U.S. infrastructure and debt, the declining unemployment rate, an increase in the gross domestic product, this year’s presidential election and the European issues of Brexit.
After discussing all of these issues, Lugar closed his address by saying, “I look forward to being helpful to each one of you who is willing to take some risk, who is willing to take some career avenues that are going to make a difference for the role of America in the world.”