04/08/2014 12:54 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2014

LBJ's Legacy Lives On

With four presidents in attendance, along with many heroes of the civil rights era of the 1960s, the Civil Rights Summit is no doubt an historic occasion. It is also an extraordinary opportunity. As we look back on where we as a country and a people have come in the last half century, we do this with an eye on the future. The real opportunity lies in the engagement and empowerment of a new generation who will become tomorrow's heroes.

As a product of the segregated south, I remember vividly what my small central Florida hometown was like in the early 1960s, with two high schools, two movie theaters, two drinking fountains at every gas station, two divided communities -- one "colored," one white. President Lyndon B. Johnson's leadership -- and that of Dr. Martin Luther King and the countless other courageous leaders of that generation -- rescued us all from that shameful legacy. Slavery was our country's original sin, and it took this generation of leaders, black and white, to begin the process of redemption.

For me, this Civil Rights Summit is intensely personal. Like so many others of my generation, I was inspired by President Johnson -- and President Kennedy before him -- to a career of public service. I enrolled in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a seaman recruit my senior year of high school, in the final weeks of JFK's life. President Johnson was my commander-in-chief during almost my entire four years at the U.S. Naval Academy. I have been in public service ever since -- thanks to leaders like JFK, LBJ, and so many others, famous and nameless, who rescued me and our country.

Students today look back on this period through different eyes. They may have little personal connection to the issues that drove my generation, but they are similarly inspired by the ability of this bygone generation's record of achievement for the public good. President Johnson's legislative achievements transformed our society and are a testament to his ability to 'get things done.'

We intend to draw upon his legacy as a way to inspire and empower a new 'get it done' generation to tackle the great policy challenges of our time, to overcome stagnation and partisanship in our politics. As a public policy school, our greatest contribution is to bring this spirit back to our political life. So the LBJ School of Public Affairs will bring LBJ back to Washington, by creating a new LBJ School Washington Center in the heart of Washington, D.C. We plan to open our doors next year.

Students today want America to be great. They care less about whether it is big government or small government, but that government is good, that government is effective, that government is ethical. They want to make the world a better place, and are prepared to do it one project, one person at a time. It is what I call applied idealism, and it is exactly what President Johnson showed all of us through action 50 years ago.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The University of Texas at Austin, in recognition of the Civil Rights Summit -- honoring the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act -- held at the LBJ Presidential Library. To see all the other posts in the series, read here. For more information about the Civil Rights Summit, read here.