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Former VA governor encourages students to practice servant leadership as key to success

Liberty University students are often given the unique opportunity to gain insight and wisdom from the professional and personal experiences of visiting faculty. This week, former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell returned to campus as a Distinguished Visiting Professor for the Helms School of Government and the School of Law, giving students the chance to learn from his experience as a lawyer and public servant.

Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell spoke to Liberty’s government and law students about the importance of servant leadership in their careers.

During his three-day visit, McDonnell spoke in six classes and also met with students and faculty and staff individually. In Judge Paul Spinden’s Criminal Law class, he told first-year law students about his experiences with the legal and public service fields, from starting as a law student at Regent University up to his election as Virginia’s 71st governor. Throughout his career, he said he has held to one simple idea that enabled him to persevere through both personal and professional struggles: servant leadership.

McDonnell encouraged the students to learn from Jesus’ example in the Gospel of Matthew and Paul’s teachings in Romans 13.

“Some of you may not think that you will be leaders, but because you have the moniker ‘Christian’ and the title ‘lawyer,’ you will have to be a leader,” McDonnell said. “God will put you in leadership positions, and you will have the opportunity to lead as a servant.”

School of Government Dean Robert Hurt believes that Governor McDonnell provides students with a perspective of leadership that goes beyond the classroom and beyond accomplishments. He said that it was more than Governor McDonnell’s hard work that helped make Virginia better, safer, stronger, and more economically successful.

“So much of being able to accomplish major policy and be a leader is in treating people with respect and dignity,” Hurt said. “He is certainly a person who lives that.”

The former governor has visited Liberty numerous times over the last 20 years, and while he is awed by the changing face of the campus and its continued growth, he said many things have remained constant. One of these is the mission of instilling students with Christian leadership to impact the world and practicing that in their future as lawyers and public servants

“The charge for you is to examine the current systems of law and government to determine how they stack up against the Judeo-Christian tradition and the teachings of Jesus,” he said. “Then determine the delta and what needs to be done to change that.”

First-year law student Briana Reed said it was interesting hearing a broad overview from someone who has been on both sides of the criminal justice system, as McDonnell served as a prosecuting attorney and as a legislator helping to form law and public policy. Reed said she also learned an important lesson for her future: “If you are a prosecutor or a defendant, don’t give up on your case; no matter what you go through, there is always something to learn.

McDonnell served as governor from 2010-14. From 2006 to 2010, he was Attorney General of Virginia. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1992 to 2006. McDonnell is a former prosecutor, business manager, and retired U.S. Army officer.