"Stay up here, Nathan," she said.
The dinner had been marvelous: salmon and steak, salad, soup, and desserts. I had eaten a piece of carrot cake slathered with icing. But now it was the awards ceremony, and they had recognized the scholarship students first.
Kevin, Kyle, and I gave our short words of thanks and shook hands with the faculty members of the 2005 Floyd M. Riddick Practicum in Parliamentary Procedure. But while they walked back to their seats, Mary Smith called me back.
While I stood in front of the group, she talked about the life of Hugh Cannon. As she finished her words, she opened up a thin white box. Inside was a gavel.
I cried. As the first Hugh Cannon Memorial Scholar, they were giving me more than a gavel. They were giving me the trust of an honorable legacy.
I have never placed great value in objects and awards. But this piece of wood carries with it much more than splinters of a dead tree.
Hugh Cannon died in January, 2005. He had paid for my first opportunity to formally study parliamentary procedure two years ago. His book on procedure remains a great inspiration.
Upon his death, the Charleston City paper said this about Hugh Cannon:
Hugh was the parliamentarian of the DNC for 20 years; he was also the parliamentarian of the NEA for many years. During this time, he revolutionized the field, making the practice of convention procedure efficient and fair, while keeping well within the delineated rules and tradition of law.
What does one do with something like that? There is only one choice for me: make the most of what I have been given and carry on the tradition of a man who is known for his kindness, fairness, and excellence.
Don't worry, William. I can guarantee you that as a Christian, as a person who tries to live a fair, honorable life, and as a parliamentarian, I am dedicated to both the ideals and careful practice of true democracy.
I gave a lecture on Thursday (photos to come shortly) about the need for fairness, good faith, and good will in democratic practice. I would be the worst of hypocrites if I didn't hold these ideals very close to my life and action. This is no equivocation. It's the truth.
This, I believe, is the sort of person Hugh Cannon was. It is the sort of person I hope to remain.