When Lee and Linda Scott decided to endow a major speakers series at PSU, it was clear that the first speaker in that series would need to be someone of national significance.

How about the 42nd president of the United States?

On Nov. 23, 2015, President Bill Clinton spoke to a standing-room-only crowd in the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts, to officially open the H. Lee Scott Speaker Series: An Examination of American Life.

Clinton spoke for an hour, largely avoiding politics, but focusing instead on issues of diversity and inclusiveness. He made it a point to speak directly to students, who made up a significant portion of the crowd.
Clinton told the crowd that they are living in the most interdependent period in human history, in which people all around the globe are connected by technology.

“Compromise and cooperation has to become an honorable thing, not a disgrace.”

“All over the world, in neighborhoods everywhere, you are seeing a crisis of identity,” Clinton said. “(People are asking,) ‘Who am I and how do I relate to you, and do the differences between us make life more interesting or more deadly? Or is there some way for us to affirm our differences that makes us stronger?’”
He argued that diverse groups make better decisions than individuals or homogeneous groups of elites and refusing to work with others is an error.
“Compromise and cooperation has to become an honorable thing, not a disgrace,” Clinton said.
Clinton talked about the role that storytelling – around the family table in Hope, Ark., in a time before television – played in his education and in his view of diversity.
“My Uncle Buddy was the smartest man I ever knew,” Clinton said. “He taught me that everyone was inherently interesting and to remember that everybody has a story and wants to be treated with dignity.”
Clinton said he remembered his uncle’s words when in Africa, working on his global initiative, he heard strangers greet each other with a phrase that translated, means “I see you.”
It is a greeting that confers dignity on everyone they meet, Clinton said.
“None of us, in an interdependent world, can afford not to see people,” he said. “We have to see people, not for the color of their skin or how they worship or their politics,” he said.
Clinton cited the findings of human genome research:
“The most important finding of the human genome research was that every non-age related difference you can see in this audience…is rooted in one-half of one percent of your genome. Otherwise, we’re 99 and one-half percent the same.
“For us to go into the 21st century with all of these amazing scientific discoveries and economic possibilities and all of these genuinely serious economic challenges; for us to spend all of our time fretting over our differences is crazy.
“We cannot afford, on a modern stage, with super powerful weapons and borders that look more like nets than walls, to pretend that our differences matter more than our common humanity. Especially when the most interesting, prosperous time in human history awaits us.”

Series a gift to the students

Linda Scott, President Bill Clinton and Lee Scott

Linda Scott, President Bill Clinton and Lee Scott.

An hour after President Bill Clinton delivered the first address in the H. Lee Scott Speaker Series and the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts was empty and quiet, Lee Scott was still smiling. It was clear the event had exceeded his expectations.
“I end this day prouder than I have ever been to be a Pittsburg State graduate,” Scott said.
Scott said he and his wife, Linda, wanted to give Pittsburg State students opportunities that frequently are available only to students in big cities and at exclusive schools.
“By having a speaker series in Pittsburg, Kansas, where we bring in the same kind of speakers you see at any of the larger institutions, not only in Kansas, but anywhere in the United States, we’re providing an opportunity for the kids at Pittsburg State University to be exposed to the best thinkers, the best ideas, and the most current thinking that there is,” Scott said. “I know that Linda and I would have been so thankful to have this kind of thing if we were still students at Pittsburg State.”
Scott said the couple’s desire to give back to the university and, in particular, to touch the lives of students has its roots in their Pittsburg State experience.
“I think the young people in the audience at the speaker series would have a hard time understanding what Pittsburg State University means to Linda and I,” Scott said. “They see where we ended up and they don’t think about where we started in that mobile home in Lone Star Trailer Park. They don’t really think about me working nights at McNally Manufacturing and Linda and I raising a child. For us, Pittsburg State really is what gave us the leg up, the ability to get that first job that then allowed you to prove yourself, to get that next job.”
Scott said the goal of the speakers series is to present some of the best minds in a wide variety of fields in the coming years and he believes it can have a positive effect on people in the region.
“I hope that 20 years from now, as people look back….they get the same sense we’ve had after our first speaker and that is to be lifted up, each of us individually in how we think. I hope that 20 years from now, people look back and say, ‘I think I’m a better person, I think I’m a better citizen, I think I’m a better parent because of things that I heard over the years in this series.’”

Family ties
Growing up in Baxter Springs in the 1950s and ‘60s, they were known simply as the Scott Boys – Jim, Lee and Steve – the sons of Harold and Avis Scott. They rode their bicycles all over town, walked to church for choir practice and pushed the lawn mower down the street to mow their grandmother’s lawn.

“We started with a great foundation,” Steve Scott said. “Our grandparents, parents and our community instilled values that have sustained us over time.”

The Scott family at home, including Jim (left) and Lee in the back row and Steve Scott with parents Avis and Harold Scott

The Scott family at home, including Jim (left) and Lee in the back row and Steve Scott with parents Avis and Harold Scott.

President Bill Clinton is greeted by Lee Scott, left, and Steve Scott prior to delivering the first address in the H. Lee Scott Speaker Series.

Steve Scott was thinking about those days last Nov. 23, as he and his brother Lee, accompanied former President Bill Clinton onto the stage to deliver the first H. Lee Scott Lecture.
“You think about the very modest background that we grew up in,” Steve Scott said. “And all these years later, we find ourselves on either side of a former president. It was an extraordinary feeling.”
And when President Clinton talked about his childhood in Hope, Ark., both Steve and Lee Scott understood how that experience had shaped him, because it was true for them, as well.
“We started with a great foundation,” Steve Scott said. “Our grandparents, parents and our community instilled values that have sustained us over time.”
“I think much like President Clinton, I can think back to my grandparents and my great grandparents, to the times we all spent together, the storytelling by my grandmother and the storytelling by my grandfather, who worked in the mines,” Lee Scott said.
Those family ties, especially among the three brothers, have remained strong over the years as each took a different path. Jim, the oldest, served in Vietnam before building a highly successful career as a lobbyist, first in Topeka and then in Washington, D.C. Lee spent most of his career with Walmart, rising to become CEO of the world’s largest retailer. Steve followed his passion for education, teaching at the high school and then college level before becoming a university administrator and eventually President of Pittsburg State.
Steve Scott said he and his brothers have been proud and supportive of each other throughout their careers.
“Jim and Lee have been incredibly supportive of me and have enjoyed watching my career unfold, Steve Scott said. “That’s been a very nice part of the relationships among the three of us.”
Steve Scott said one of the special moments at the inaugural speech of the H. Lee Scott Speaker Series was the standing ovation that students and the crowd gave his brother.
“The standing ovation for Lee just made me feel good,” Steve Scott said.
“It was a huge affirmation.”