Brook native one of 51 picked for congress

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, June 24, 2008

One of Brookhaven’s native sons is adding onto his early-lifecareer in the political arena by attending a weeklong session thatwill teach him government in the way of the Great Compromiser.

Ben Rowley, a 2005 graduate of Brookhaven Academy and currentUniversity of Mississippi junior who served as a page in the U.S.Senate during his junior year of high school, has been selected asone of 51 college juniors from every state and the District ofColumbia who will travel to Lexington, Ky., to attend the HenryClay Center for Statesmanship’s inaugural Student Congress.

The seven-day congress – which is operated through theUniversity of Kentucky, Transylvania University and Ashland, theHenry Clay Estate – will feature various lectures from diplomatsand professors, and a curriculum of debate geared toward teachingthe principles of statesmanship as practiced by Henry Clay, anesteemed and influential Representative and Senator from Kentuckythroughout the first half of the 1800s who twice postponed theCivil War.

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“There is a pretty rigid outline of how the week will go,” saidWhitney Peabody, a publicist for Boston-based Conover Tuttle Pace,a firm working to promote the student congress. “They’re going tobring in a lot of speakers and go over problem-solving approachesand negotiations.”

The congress will begin on Saturday, July 19, as students checkin and go through orientation. Days one and two, which will featuretours of Ashland and Lexington, including Henry Clay’s gravesite,are designed to familiarize the students with the history of HenryClay.

The next four days will be all business, packed with dinners,meetings, debates and presentations. Guest speakers to the congressinclude such public figures as Ambassador Nancy Brinker, Chief ofProtocol for the U.S. Department of State; Ambassador AndreasKakouris, Cyprus’ ambassador to the U.S.; and Thomas McGinty of theU.S. Department of Commerce.

Representatives from the United Nations’ departments ofPolitical Affairs and Peacekeeping Operations are also scheduled toappear.

Peabody said the congress and its many guests would serve as aphilosophical training ground for the 51 attendees, who are amongthe top student achievers in their respective states.

“These are the students who may be our future leaders,” shesaid. “Our politics have become so polarized, and the congress willaim to remind the students of how our founding fathers lead us. Wecan’t really have winners and losers in politics – we need healthycompromise. Politics is more than just Republicans andDemocrats.”

Mindy Shannon Phelps, executive director of the center, said thecongress was made available to college juniors because, by thatpoint in their college careers, they are mostly decided on theirfutures and need only a few finishing touches to equip them fullyfor their professional lives.

“These young people are poised to achieve whatever they want toachieve,” she said. “We’re here to arm them with the tools ofmediation, conciliation and the art of beneficial compromise.Whatever career they ultimately settle on, if they’re armed withthe art of statesmanship, they are going to do a better job.”

The most important quality the congress hopes to equip itsstudents with is conflict resolution, Phelps said. She said theweek’s events will focus on examining conflict around the world andask, “What would Henry Clay do if he were alive today?”

“We want the students to come away with an overriding sense ofthe possibility for peace and diplomacy in the world, for an end toconflict,” she said. “It’s really no different from what thefounding fathers did. They got together and decided there werecertain things they could achieve – independence, a Constitutionand individual freedom. Two hundred years later, why can’t we dothe same thing?”

Rowley – a college student learned in the ways of politics byhis past experiences of serving on campaigns since he first passedout flyers for former Gov. Kirk Fordice at age 4 – does not believethat the compromises won by Clay are attainable in the country’scurrent political climate.

“The art of compromise really has been lost recently,” he said.”For the last 10 years or so, politics has been either, ‘You’rewith us or against us.’ There’s no middle ground. Right now, Idon’t think the politicians in Washington can do something likethat – I don’t think their minds are set up for it.”

However, Rowley believes the next generation of politicalthinkers will be able to reverse the trend and return to the lostart of negotiation, and he said he and the 50 other college juniorswho attend the student congress will

have the best chance of restoring the old days.

“This student congress comes at a very appropriate time,” hesaid. “It will emphasize compromise and negotiation in a time whereyoung people really haven’t seen much of that. Everything is soideological right now; people seem to be stuck in one way oranother. Really, if we’re going to move forward, we need tosomewhere in the middle so no one gets left behind.”

Rowley said he is looking forward to the student congress, as itwill serve as a furthering of his current mission at Ole Miss,where he is a public policy and leadership major in the Trent LottLeadership Institute.

As he works on his thesis this summer – a policy recommendationfor the City of Oxford to implement affordable housing – Rowleysaid the networking and negotiating he will soon engage in at thestudent congress will better arm him for his career.

“In everything in life, I like to try to understand it as muchas possible,” he said. “That’s really what this will be – anextension of that philosophy. This student congress is going to bea really good opportunity for me to meet students from all over thecountry and be exposed to different perspectives.”