Following is the text of 1979 Scholar Henri Duncan's address at the Byrnes Foundation 44th annual luncheon, June 9, 2007.
"James F. Byrnes, Congressman, Senator, Governor, Justice, Assistant President, Secretary of the United States. The most distinguished Carolinian of his time.”
That is the inscription on a monument on the grounds of the S.C. State Capital Building honoring James F. Byrnes.
Not to dismiss the importance of the political positions he held, but to me, "The most distinguished Carolinian of his time," that is the special part. This man was a leader of our Nation, had endless opportunities, but he didn’t turn his back on where he came from, which were modest beginnings. He chose to create this scholarship program assisting South Carolinians with a past similar to his. A scholarship program that would become his living legacy. We, as Byrnes Scholars, are his legacy. To me that is such an honor, yet brings with it responsibility, a responsibility to live life in such a way that would make Jimmy Byrnes and our fellow Byrnes Scholars proud. To live life in such a way that makes every person that comes in contact with us realize that there are special qualities within us – because there are special qualities in each of us. Every Byrnes scholar was chosen because a group of people recognized they had the qualities it takes to be a living memorial to Jimmy Byrnes, the qualities it takes to be the most distinguished Carolinian of their time.
To become a recipient of the James F. Byrnes Scholarship, the applicant must demonstrate a strong academic ability, leadership qualities and a determination to succeed in life. I’ll admit I was one of those that struggled in the academics part. Thankfully the Board of Directors realized that I had the characteristics and qualities to make a difference – as they did in each of you that have been chosen to be a Byrnes Scholar.
The qualities that made each us stand out to that selection committee are the same qualities that make us good citizens of the State of South Carolina or wherever opportunity takes us. It makes us the kind of people that will make the community a better place because of the time we spent there.
We are chosen to become Byrnes Scholars because a group of people saw something special in us, they saw the potential we had in adding to and giving back to the community.
And that brings me to what the scholarship means to me and what keeps me coming back. What keeps me coming back is the people. The people that are associated with the James F Byrnes Foundation are some of the best people you will every have an opportunity to meet. Some of them have held or hold key positions in the community, some of them are business owners, some have chosen to devote their time to raising a family – whatever path they have chosen, you will see that they are determined to succeed in that endeavor. You can rest assured that every Byrnes Scholar is a quality person. I know this because of the many Byrnes Scholars I have had the privilege of getting to know over the twenty-eight years I have had the honor of being associated with the James F. Byrnes Foundation.
The friends I made amongst the scholars have become family to me. Even if we only see each other one or two times a year or once every two or three years, we are family. We know we are there for each other – in good times and bad. There is great love and respect amongst us. Priceless relationships were begun many years ago and they have endured and grown.
You will hear Byrnes Scholars refer to fellow Byrnes Scholars as Brothers and Sisters – that may take a little getting used to. Keep in mind the positive benefits of family. I think one of the most important things a family member can offer is unconditional love, and that is something that you will find prevails amongst the Byrnes Scholars. It is because of the qualities that each of us possess that provides for that immediate acceptance and unconditional love you will receive from your fellow Byrnes Scholars. Because each of us were chosen to be a part of this group, this family. We all have the assurance that our fellow Byrnes Scholars are quality, outstanding people. We can bypass the usual filtering process we may have in place to help us decide how close we become to the people we meet. The fact that they are a Byrnes Scholar opens the door for immediate acceptance.
I hope that you take the opportunity to experience that – leave yourself open to the immediate acceptance and unconditional love that will come your way. The rewards from the relationships will be much more valuable than the monetary awards given.
In return for their generosity and support, Mom and Pop Byrnes asked only two things from us: become the very best people we could become in life, and make sure their legacy of family continues for those who come after us.
Please consider making a tax deductible contribution to the James F. Byrnes Foundation to secure its ability to invite more deserving young women and men to join the Byrnes family, both now and in the future. The Donate button will take you to the Paypal site where you can use your credit card or Paypal account to make a secure, one-time donation or set up a monthly recurring donation.
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The James F. Byrnes Foundation
Post Office Box 6781
Columbia, SC 29260-6781
Tel.: (803) 254-9325