U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield shakes hands before a speech on civic engagement at Barton College on Thursday. Photo taken Thursday, April 26, 2017. Drew C. Wilson | Times
By Drew C. Wilson
Times Staff Writer
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield urged Barton College students to let activism take a backseat to their education.
The Democratic 1st Congressional District representative ended a three-day, seven-city tour during the congressional recess Thursday in Wilson.
Marcella Medley, president of the Minority Students Association, introduced Butterfield to about 25 other students and faculty members at Hardy Alumni Hall.
“He was the son of a dentist and a teacher. He was a soldier and then a graduate of North Carolina Central. He was a lawyer and then a judge and now is a U.S. congressman,” Medley said. “Throughout it all, he has never forgotten about the people of eastern North Carolina or the people of Wilson, where he still resides.”
After a brief history lesson on voting rights, Butterfield settled into a bit of advice about civic engagement.
“What advice would you give students like us who are trying to balance a full course load for those of us for wanting to be involved in whatever kind of activism we are interested in?” Medley asked.
“I was an activist when I was in college, maybe a little bit too active,” Butterfield said. “You have got to have a good balance between your books and your activism.”
Butterfield said students should be politically active, but their main goal should be to earn a degree.
“I say let it be education heavy and activism light, but not non-existent,” Butterfield said. “You have got to be involved in the political and civic issues of our day. I’m not saying don’t be involved at all, but don’t let it consume your life at the expense of your education. What I want you to do is get the best education you possibly can.”
Butterfield said students need to make the most of their college experience.
“I want you to absorb all of this knowledge that is around you and get your degree from school, and then if you are so inclined, to go on to graduate school or go into your professions or whatever your career happens to be, be the best that you can be.”
The best jobs in the future are forecast to be in the field of science, technology, engineering and math, Butterfield said.
“If you’re interested in STEM education, I want to really, really pursue STEM courses because we’re going to need a million and a half STEM workers over the next five years,” Butterfield said.
At the rate the country is graduating scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians, only two-thirds of available jobs will be filled.
“So if you are inclined to go into STEM, man, go for it,” Butterfield said. “I guarantee you, if you get a STEM degree, you are going to work the next day when you graduate from college, and it won’t be minimum wage either, it will be a wonderful, wonderful salary. You might have to move to the west coast or you may have to move to New York City, or some other place, Research Triangle Park, to the jobs that are waiting for you.”
Butterfield urged students to stay attuned to information flowing from a multiplicity of outlets.
“If y’all are not watching the news, y’all need to start watching the news,” Butterfield said. “This stuff that’s going down in Washington and in Raleigh, it affects you more than it affects me.”
“You’ve got to pay attention. You’ve got to go to Fox News and hear what they have to say. You’ve got to switch over to MSNBC and hear what they’re saying, and CNN, and you’ve got to get your news from every source,” Butterfield said.
“Then use your good old common sense and say ‘Now, who is telling me the truth? Let me see. I know baloney when I hear it. I don’t believe that.’”
Butterfield urged students to form their own opinions and then vote accordingly.
“Don’t dismiss resistance. That’s the movement we call it now, but don’t let it consume your education. Your goal in life right now is to get the best education that you can get, while still giving back to your community by being part of an active group. Activism includes registering to vote,” Butterfield said.
“Voting is a powerful thing.”
November’s presidential election could have been swayed by very few votes.
“It could have been different in Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio. If just five more people per precinct voted in those states, the election outcome would have been different,” Butterfield said. “Your vote, really, really matters.”
Some political forecasters depend on only 25 percent of millennials to turn out and cast ballots.
“You need to surprise them and vote at 65 and 70 and 75 percent, 100 percent in the next election,” Butterfield said. “I can tell you it can make a difference. It made a difference. You’ve got to be engaged and vote. You’ve got to talk about the issues.”
Medley said the event was a success.
“I am very proud of it. I am glad we were able to have him come to our campus,” Medley said. “I’m really big into politics so any chance that I get to talk about politics with other people, I really appreciate it,” said Medley. “I met him briefly when I was a freshman, so it was really good to see him again. I worked with a nonprofit dealing with voting rights over the summer so it is good to know that he is an advocate in that avenue. That’s really special to me.”
For a rundown on how college students can register to vote, go to http://campusvoteproject.org/north-carolina/.