BATON ROUGE, La. – A top Democratic congressman is telling young people in Louisiana that they should pursue their dreams but also learn to lose gracefully if they want long-term success.
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina spoke Friday to about 200 students and parents at a Louisiana Leadership Institute Event in Baton Rouge.
“I want each of you to keep trying until you get it right,” he said.
The Advocate reported that Clyburn emphasized the significance of his own losses in learning to be calm in the face of failure. He lost races for various political offices in 1970, 1978 and 1986. He said if he had given up then, he’d never be where he is today.
Clyburn has been in Congress since 1993. He is assistant House Democratic leader and the highest-ranking African-American in the chamber.
He recalled losing a race for state legislature by 500 votes, when he thought that he had won by that many. Rather than publicly say something was wrong with ballot counting, he told reporters he simply didn’t get enough votes. He said that quote in the newspaper led to the state’s newly elected governor, John West, calling him to meet. Clyburn soon went to work for the governor.
“He saw that I knew how to lose,” said Clyburn, who turns 74 on Monday. “I haven’t looked back since.”
Clyburn is friends with Louisiana Leadership Institute founder Cleo Fields, a Louisiana congressman from 1993-97. The institute, which offers Saturday classes and other programs, has had a series of speakers over the years, including retired Gen. Colin Powell.
Clyburn’s speech was filled with personal anecdotes, following the May release of his book, “Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black,” which recounts his career in politics and his early life. He told the audience he intended his book to be a guide for young people.
The Louisiana Leadership Institute students will discuss Clyburn’s book in two weeks in their Leadership Classroom. Several said his speech was inspiring.
“I feel like it’s a challenge for youth to buckle down and pursue their goals,” said Rachél Oatis, 18. “He really challenged us to pursue them.”