Drinking Starbucks in a black suit and purple tie, Kansas State Interim President Gen. Richard Myers spoke to students at the K-State Alumni Center Monday evening about civic engagement and the importance of voting.
The one-hour event, hosted by the Student Governing Association, the Office of Governmental Relations and the Alumni Association, also gave students who had not yet registered to vote the opportunity to start the process before and after the discussion.
“This election in particular is somewhat unusual,” Myers said. “Some of the candidates may be hard to get behind, but you have to make a decision and participate.”
Myers, who served in the Air Force and eventually became the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has lived a non-partisan life, as he felt it was inappropriate to let people know his political affiliation.
“I’ve been a retired senior officer for 11 years,” he said. “There are further restraints on engagement for me. I felt I should stay out of politics.”
Myers voted in his first election while at K-State in 1964. Although he has stayed out of major political campaigns throughout his career after college, it is not for lack of trying on the part of politicians.
“I have had seven requests for endorsements,” Myers said. “Senator Barack Obama called me four or five days before the election against McCain, asking if I would endorse him.”
Myers agreed to give policy advice, but none of the politicians took him up on his offer after he told them they could not draw attention to the fact that he was on their side. Other politicians who have asked for his endorsement include Senator Pat Roberts and Senator Hillary Clinton.
“I think the public recognition because of the position I held would confuse the public by political affiliation,” Myers said. “I think at a lower rank, there’s no issue. Otherwise, it’s a blatant misuse of the military uniform.”
His military career and leadership is exactly why SGA asked him to speak at the event, said Trenton Kennedy, student body vice president and junior in entrepreneurship.
“This is part of our ongoing initiative to encourage civic engagement at K-State,” Kennedy said. “We sought out Gen. Myers as our first flagship event for this yearlong project we’re on to increase civic engagement and increase voter participation, because Gen. Myers is such an outstanding public servant.”
Although this is the first event that Myers has spoken at about voting, this is not the first of its kind for SGA. Jonathan Peuchen, student senator for the College of Engineering and junior in mechanical engineering, said the turnout for this event was better than in the past.
“I was impressed because in the past we’ve have hosted ‘Pizza and Politics’ and typically, we haven’t had good attendance,” he said. “Those people that have come, whether it be required for a class or an organization, have shown up and been on their phones so I think that this time, we got people who were genuinely interested in hearing what the lecturer had to say and had some good takeaways that they’ll put into action, and they’ll use those takeaways to excite others about being civically involved.”
Myers also gave advice to students during a Q&A period after his speech, from getting information from multiple news sources to how to communicate effectively with lawmakers.
“You have to be civil in discourse,” he said. “You have to be respectful to members in public service … You have to compromise and be respectful. You also have to have your position thought out and deliver it briefly.”
That advice, reaffirmed by Susan Peterson, director of governmental relations, was taken in by students, including Peuchen.
“I think the biggest takeaway from tonight was the tangible things he was giving us about how to reach out, how to get good information, how to make sure we’re coordinating our messages together,” Peuchen said. “I think it’s really important that when you’re trying to advocate for something on the state or national level, you make sure you have all your facts clear; you need to be able to debunk all the myths that are out there. And making sure you get your messages to the right people at the right times.”
Myers ended the evening by encouraging students once again to get involved and vote, because it is “our civic duty.”
“The right the vote is not a guarantee,” he said. “There is no God-given right to vote, so stay engaged.”
Individual states have set their own deadlines, for both voter registration and absentee ballot deadlines. The deadline for voter registration for the Nov. 8 election in Kansas ends on Oct. 18. Following that, there will be an advanced polling location in the K-State Student Union for those able to vote in Manhattan.