From Failing Civics and Talking in Class to the Senate

South Carolina's Tim Scott sees himself as 'a messenger of hope and opportunities'

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott decided he liked winning when he won a student council seat. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott decided he liked winning when he won a student council seat. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted June 7, 2016 at 7:00am

World geography, civics, Spanish and English didn’t go so well for Tim Scott. As a freshman in high school, he failed all four subjects and nearly flunked out of school.  

“I think I’m the first senator to ever fail civics: the study of politics,” the South Carolina Republican said .  

Scott grew up with a father in the Air Force; his parents divorced when he was 7. He spent much of his childhood living with his grandparents in Charleston.  

“From 7 to 14, I just kind of drifted, much of it into the wrong direction,” he said. “I typically did things the hard way anyways.”  

He shared a room with his mother and brother in his grandparent’s 900-square-foot house.  

“I think if you were to listen to Republicans, conservatives, we have the story of the average American,” he said. “We don’t always take the time to tell that story.”  

“We typically talk from where we are, not how we got there. I prefer to talk about where I’ve been and how I got here,” the senator said.   


[Tim Scott Looks to Build Bridges]
Scott attributes his success largely to his mother who knew he had a bright future. She helped him get back on track in his teenage years, and he was able to graduate high school in four years.  

Tim Scott as a High School student in South Carolina. (Courtesy Sen. Tim Scott's Senate office)
Tim Scott as a High School student in South Carolina. (Courtesy Sen. Tim Scott)

“I think everybody has a mission on earth,” he said. “And so my mission — the way I look at it — is the good Lord takes your mess out of your life and makes it into a message so you can be a messenger. For me, it’s a messenger of hope and opportunities.”  

His mother and grandmother always believed he would be a lawyer because they said he talked too much. In eighth grade, a teacher encouraged him to stop talking in class and join the student council.  

Scott ran and won a seat on the council, launching him on a path into politics. “I actually like winning so that was a good experience,” he said.  


[Confederate Flag Debate Showcases Scott as Symbol]
Eventually, Scott said he learned “the notion of enlightened self-interest — that it’s in your best interest to first serve others before asking for something for yourself.”  

“I think that’s part of the journey of America, right? [President John F.] Kennedy said it in a different way but it’s always — it’s first do what you can before expecting someone to do what they can. If we all did that then we would be in, of course, better shape,” he said.  

Correction June 7 12:10 p.m. |  An earlier version of this story misquoted Scott.  


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