Former Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox told Brenau Academy students on Wednesday to choose a profession that will be interesting and rewarding.
"You don’t need to be stuck in a job, in an environment, that’s not intellectually stimulating to you," Cox told the group of girls gathered at Pearce Auditorium at Brenau University. "Start on a path you find interesting, and see where it leads you."
Cox served two terms as secretary of state from 1999 to 2007, and was the first woman in Georgia to hold that office. She has also served two terms in the Georgia House of Representatives.
Cox shared her own career path with the students, from her first job as a police reporter at The Times to practicing law in Atlanta and her hometown of Bainbridge after graduating from Mercer University Law School.
Cox now serves as president of Young Harris College.
"I struggled when I was in high school to decide what I wanted to do," Cox told the students.
Cox decided to attend Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, a two-year college, to study horticulture.
She decided to change her major to journalism, and went to the University of Georgia.
As a police reporter at The Times, Cox had to cover trials. She said she was lost when she had to write about court hearings and judges’ rulings.
"I was so overwhelmed with this feeling of ignorance and incompetence about what was going on in the courtroom, I decided to go to law school," she said.
Cox practiced at a large firm in Atlanta for a couple of years before moving back to Bainbridge to be closer to her father, who had been diagnosed with cancer.
She practiced law there, and eventually decided to run for state legislature. Her father had been in politics all of her life, and she grew up helping him campaign.
Cox beat a 16-year incumbent with 64 percent of the vote in her first run for office. She was re-elected two years later with no opposition.
She served as secretary of state from 1997 to 2002 and ran for governor in 2006, losing in the Democratic primary.
Though she was not elected, "I do not regret running," Cox told the students. "I’m glad I was able to raise some issues."
After the election, Cox planned to practice law again, but was given the opportunity to serve as president of Young Harris College.
The college’s trustees voted last spring to grow into a four-year college.
"I thought it would be such a fascinating project," Cox said of the position.
She told the students not to go down a certain career path just to have a job or to make a certain salary.
"You will not be fulfilled in life following the money tree," she said.
In high school, Cox said the thought of being a college administrator never crossed her mind.
But now, "I am just having the time of my life."
Cox told the students to stay open to learning and following a path. While some may stay on one path for the rest of their lives and be fulfilled, that same path may open another door that they didn’t know about before.
"Life is just too short not to keep learning," Cox said. "The beauty of life is being able to go down paths and learn something from all these different experiences that you didn’t even know about five or 10 years ago.
"Follow that path and just take it where it leads you, and I think you’ll be happy and successful beyond your wildest dreams."