House Speaker Kirk Cox talking to Longwood SGA

Find an issue you are passionate about, volunteer on a campaign or for a candidate you believe in, become an active leader in the local community and read a lot of books. Those were the four pieces of advice Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox imparted to members of the Longwood Student Government Association as he encouraged them to pursue public service.  

In his remarks at the SGA’s end-of-the-year banquet Tuesday evening, Cox focused on returning civility to political discourse and the importance of younger generations becoming involved in the legislative and political process. He asked students to consider a career in public service, which he said is still a noble and courageous calling, especially in Virginia’s citizen legislature.

“I really would challenge you as you go forth from Longwood to get involved in the process,” Cox said. “You’ve gotten tremendous training and experience here as citizen leaders, and we really need you. If your generation doesn’t step up to take up a leadership role, we’re not going to have the leaders that we need. I hope you will be one of those leaders.”

This experiment in representative democracy really has been a beacon for most countries. We’ve got to get back to that. We’ve really got to get back to where we put others above ourselves. We have a public servant’s heart, I don’t care whether you are a conservative or a Democrat.

Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox

Cox, whose oldest son graduated from Longwood in 2014, was introduced by SGA President Kevin Napier ’18, who said he has known Cox since he was in elementary school. Both Cox and Napier are from Colonial Heights.

The speaker praised the SGA’s accomplishments in the last year and said the students had shown great drive and enthusiasm and set a respectful tone in representing their peers.

Cox, a retired government teacher with 30 years in-classroom experience, is the first speaker whose profession was that of public school teacher. He told the SGA members that having a citizen legislature—where representatives maintain their diverse professional jobs while serving in the General Assembly—is important in keeping a proper perspective.

He joked that, when he was still teaching, the day after he returned to school after the legislative session he would always have lunch room duty, which he called a “gross experience.” But it humbled him. “As a citizen legislator you see the effect of what you do and how it effects students and how it effects constituents,” he said. “It really is a good experience.”

Cox recounted the arc of his political career: from his start as the driver for an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate, to campaigning in his first House of Delegates race—when he got bit by two dogs while knocking on doors—to his ascension to speaker in January and presiding over a narrowly-divided House chamber.

He read excerpts from his first speech as speaker at the opening of this year’s General Assembly session. In it, he talked about bridging the partisan divide by focusing on governing and finding common ground, something he said he has been able to achieve so far in his relationship with Gov. Ralph Northam.

“We are not two parties. We are one House tasked with the responsibility of governing one Commonwealth, improving the lives of one group—the citizens we serve,” Cox said, quoting his speech from January. “We won’t agree on everything—that’s the beauty of a two-party system— but let us find those areas where we can agree and act on them in order to improve the opportunities and well-being of all Virginians.”

When asked how students and recent college graduates could gain political experience, Cox told the group it was easier than they might expect. He said the first step is to get involved as a volunteer or intern with a campaign.

“If you are good, they notice you right away and you’ll move up quickly,” he said, noting that all of his staff members are under the age of 30.

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