Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism.
The Dartmouth
May 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Three Lessons from a Profile in Courage

Before applying Dartmouth, if someone told you that your college essay, on which you had worked so diligently, would be the reason Dartmouth would deny you, would you revise your essay to preach to the Dartmouth admissions committee? Or would you submit your original, more honest essay, believing that success is not an acceptance letter but holding true to a core set of values?

Former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes drove up to a similar fork in the road, and chose to stick with his original, more honest plan. In 2001, Governor Barnes was faced with a biting dilemma: keep the Georgia state flag with the Confederate battle emblem and continue to give Georgia a racist black eye, or change the flag, knowing full well that re-election in 2002 might be difficult.

Barnes courageously changed the Georgia flag and lost his bid for reelection. On May 12, 2003, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, Mass., will recognize former Governor Roy Barnes, former Governor David Beasley of South Carolina and former Georgia State Representative Dan Ponder, Jr. with the distinguished Profile in Courage Award. Barnes deserves this award for his gutsy performance. There are three lessons we can learn from this profile in courage.

One: Make sure you know who you are, because if you don't, other people will tell you who you are.

Barnes has a firm grasp of who he is and what he stands for because of his inner principles. He told me, "I think success is measured in several different ways, not just in winning but in keeping true to a set of inner principles that in the short term may not succeed -- over the long term, proves to be true." Envenomed Confederate flag-waving Georgians criticized Barnes for his decision, using every lobbying and protesting technique in the book. Barnes stood firm.

Having an undying set of inner principles -- or what the business world calls "core values" -- is common among highly successful individuals and organizations. In the renowned business book "Built to Last," authors James Collins and Jerry Porras indicate that highly successful organizations, ones that have stood the test of time like 3M, Nordstrom, Walt Disney and Merck, all have core values that they stick to through thick and thin.

Two: Leadership ain't always doing what's popular.

Barnes changed the flag with the legislature's approval, knowing full well that rural white supporters opposed the change by three to one. Confederate flag supporters protested at several of Barnes's public events; some even threatened his life. Current Governor Sonny Perdue, a no-name Republican, made the flag a central issue in the campaign, calling on President Bush to come down to Georgia.

I should point out that southern Republicans are different than the garden variety found in the Northeast and the White House. It has been reported that numerous Southern Republicans, when given the choice between a job and the Confederate battle flag, choose -- you guessed it -- the flag. Barnes knew what was right for his state and did it. Perdue has reopened the flag issue, calling for a statewide referendum on the Confederate battle emblem. He hasn't reopened a can of worms, he's reopened a can of hate.

Three: Smile.

President Barnes -- some pundits were touting Barnes as a 2004 presidential candidate. He had all the makings. He was a governor of a big Southern state. He brought numerous jobs to the state. He reformed education (Georgia has been the last in SAT scores in the nation). He proposed a bold plan to fix Atlanta's nightmare traffic. He was predicted to win his reelection bid. But he didn't.

His decision to change the Georgia flag overshadowed his wonderful record of accomplishment. But if you see Barnes, he isn't down and out. There is a refreshing smile pinned to his face from ear to ear. Go up and shake his hand. He might even bark a "Hey, y'all," or "I reckon," or "How you folks doin'?" at you. Barnes smiles because he knows what he did was right. He smiles because he stuck to his inner principles. Despite going through a political tornado, he continues to smile -- a lesson we Dartmouth students can all learn.

Years from now, when Georgia opens its history books, it will find -- sandwiched between the 1996 Olympics and the economic recovery of the twenty-first century -- a governor from Mableton, Ga. A profile in courage.