ASHLAND — The former vice president of the United States left Ashbrook Center students with some advice Friday.
“If you aspire to lead this great nation, learn it,” said Mike Pence, during his keynote speech at the Ashbrook Center's 34th John M. Ashbrook Memorial Dinner. “Learn why it’s great.”
He encouraged the students in the audience to read the nation’s founding documents so that they might lead the nation in a “manner of freedom.”
Pence — who describes himself as a Christian, conservative and a Republican, "in that order" — received the center’s Ashbrook Award, during the fundraiser that drew a crowd of nearly 600 people to the John C. Myers Convocation Center at Ashland University.
The center’s most prestigious award is given to people who “exemplify the ideals so splendidly upheld by the late John M. Ashbrook,” which include “integrity of thought and conduct; the knowledge of what is right and a determination to do right … they include a determination to fight — alone if need be — for worthy goals.”
Ashbrook Center Executive Director Jeffrey Sikkenga said the award is the center’s highest honor, with recipients such as Ronald Reagan, John Ashbrook, Bill Harris, John Boehner and many others.
“Vice President Pence has been willing to take unpopular stands when he believes they are right and he has the courage to act on his convictions, even if he does so alone,” Sikkenga said.
The Outstanding Ashbrook Scholar Alumni Award was given to Thomas Whatman a 1988 graduate of the program. Whatman served as executive director of the Ohio Republican Party from 1994 to 2000 and in 2001 founded Strategic Public Partners, a Columbus-based public affairs firm.
Those in attendance Friday included dignitaries from across the state, including Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, State Sen. Mark Romanchuk (R-Ontario) and former president of the Ohio Senate, Larry Obhof.
Ashland Mayor Matt Miller and councilman Dennis Miller were also in attendance, along with Ashland County Prosecutor Chris Tunnell and Ashland County Commissioner Jim Justice.
“Ashland County has a long history of being a freedom-loving people,” said Miller moments following Pence’s speech. “This is a place where everyone still very much values their freedoms and values their rights. So when you have a guy like Mike Pence show up — he is preaching a message that resonates with the people who call this region home.”
Justice agreed, saying Pence was “awe-inspiring.”
“I loved every minute of it,” he said. “Including his jokes.”
Justice said Pence’s civility, humility, faith and optimism for the country are qualities of his speech that will stick with him.
At one point during the 50-minute talk, Pence acknowledged the chaotic day surrounding the events on Jan. 6 when protesters sieged the Capitol on the day the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives met to certify Joe Biden’s victory in November’s presidential election.
It forced lawmakers, and Pence, to scramble for safety. It resulted in the death of four people that day, and another the following day, and in the injury of 100 police officers.
The former vice president said there have been some dark days, including in the first nine months of President Biden’s administration — which, he said, have resulted in inflation, “an effort to erase our history” in schools and chaos at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“But in the midst of it all, the best days are ahead … it’s always darkest before the dawn,” he said, moments before vowing to “win back Congress in 2022 and win back America.”
National media outlets have opined that Pence is considering a presidential bid in 2024. The former vice president did not offer any hints in his speech, but overflowed with optimism.
“We will right the ship again,” he said. “We’re not a perfect union. But it’s the only place in the world committed to being a more perfect union. We live in an exceptional country — because we’ve embraced exceptional ideals.”