Much of what helped former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal succeed in life he learned at Mercer University.
Deal, a Double Bear who earned his bachelor’s degree in 1964 and law degree in 1966, returned to Mercer on Feb. 2 to give the annual Founders’ Day address.
Standing in front of faculty, staff and students in Willingham Auditorium, Deal shared three key lessons he learned during his time at Mercer: the importance of self-discipline, the rewards of persistence in educational endeavors and the importance of friendships.
As a freshman, Deal enrolled in Mercer’s Army ROTC program. He became a member of the Pershing rifles precision drill team and Scabbard and Blade military fraternity, and he served as cadet commander of the Corps of Cadets.
Following graduation, he received a regular Army commission and entered active service, obtaining the rank of captain.
“The military discipline that led to greater self-discipline has been valuable to me, and I am thankful for the dedicated officers and enlisted men who taught me during my years in the ROTC program here at Mercer,” he said.
Deal, a Sandersville native who was now no longer responsible for livestock and chores on the farm, committed himself to his schoolwork. He said he was blessed to have excellent professors during his time at Mercer, and he still has notes from one of his religion classes.
“Years later, those notes became a very valuable resource for me as I taught Sunday school in our local church,” he said. “That made me realize how important those Mercer religion classes really were.”
Growing up an only child with no nearby relatives, Deal’s friends at Mercer became his family. To this day, he stays in touch with his Alpha Tau Omega fraternity brothers, and two of his friends from Mercer attended his Founders’ Day talk.
“When I was campaigning for governor, my Mercer friends were some of the most active supporters I had,” he said. “They helped make victory possible.”
He said he took the lessons he learned at Mercer to the governor’s office
“In politics, one must be very careful not to be swallowed up by catchy slogans and pledges to take action on issues that sound good but have not been fully examined,” he said.
Deal’s experience on Mercer’s debate team taught him to analyze issues and clearly articulate his positions, and the liberal arts education he got at Mercer helped him deal with issues surrounding economics and sociology, “which are always living large in governmental arenas.”
He described how he asked questions about the economy in search of answers that would allow him to balance the state budget without raising taxes. That led to changes in education, which helped improve job placement for both blue-collar and college-educated workers.
He also oversaw extensive criminal justice reform, including the expansion of accountability courts to divert non-violent offenders from prison, leading to lower violent crime and overall crime rates, he said.
Earlier in his remarks, Deal acknowledged the contributions of Adiel Sherwood, Jesse Mercer and Josiah Penfield in starting Mercer but noted that as the University evolves, the list of founders continues to grow.
“From my point of view, the term ‘founders’ is not a static label frozen in time like a statue in the 1800s. Indeed, it is evolutional and dynamic,” he said. “Sustaining and nurturing an institution makes the celebration of its founding possible.”
He concluded: “My challenge for each of us is to do our part to assist Mercer in her quest for educational excellence, the goal of our founders over 180 years ago. Let us be founders, all.”