Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the hit musical Hamilton, coined a hashtag to use when he does something insanely cool (which is arguably most of the time). He’ll say it’s been a “#bitofaday.” I’ve commandeered his phrase and dubbed my past few days a #bitofaweek.
I’m fairly certain the most famous person I’d ever met was the mayor of my small Midwestern town… until last week. As an American history and government nut, I always look forward to guest speakers with ties to politics. My most recent encounters did not disappoint. I had the chance to meet Vice President Al Gore, Dr. Chelsea Clinton, Mr. Chris Matthews, and Senator Lamar Alexander – four giants of the political world – in the span of three days.
Vice President Gore
I’m lucky enough to be enrolled in the political science course “Presidential Leadership” this semester. Taught by Professor John Geer alongside Professor Jon Meacham, a renowned presidential historian, each class is a #bitofaday in itself. The course also features an array of guest lecturers, from journalists to politicians to a certain university chancellor.
This particular whirlwind of greatness descended Monday when Vice President Gore visited class. He engaged in a discussion with our professors and then took questions from a lecture hall quite literally overflowing with students. He spoke about the qualities of effective leadership, overcoming challenges, the impact of the internet on politics, and the importance of standing up for the rule of law regardless of political consequences.
He praised the students involved in the recent March For Our Lives and was introduced to Abby Brafman, the Vanderbilt first-year and Stoneman Douglas alumna who started Nashville’s March. The Vice President took the time to shake hands with students as they left, even snapping selfies with a few.
Scrolling through Twitter on Monday morning, I came upon a post from Chelsea Clinton that began with “Hey Nashville!” I read on to discover the First Daughter, activist, and author was doing a book signing that night at Parnassus Books near Green Hills Mall – just down the road from campus. In the spirit of meeting my heroes, I recruited my friend Alice and to come with me on an impromptu adventure to meet her.
Chelsea Clinton has written two children’s books called She Persisted and She Persisted: Around the World recounting the stories of courageous women and girls throughout history. Navigating a sea of middle-aged moms and little kids, Alice and I waited to give our books to their author before she shook our hands, asked us our names, and returned the stories with her name affixed to the opening page.
As a part of the IMPACT Symposium and Chancellor’s Lecture Series, Chris Matthews paid a visit to campus last week. Host of MSNBC’s Hardball, this famed political commentator served in the Peace Corps, worked for Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, and published his most recent book entitled Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit.
His discussion with Chancellor Zeppos and Professor Meacham ranged from historical reflection on the Kennedys to candid comments on politics today. He spoke of the need for more bipartisanship and moral leadership in Washington, telling stories from the Reagan era and crafting creative metaphors to describe present situations.
Free copies of his newest book were distributed and able to be signed after the lecture. I waited in line, befriended the visitors behind me, and eventually made my way to the front. I told Mr. Matthews I’m studying political science, to which he replied “I’ve always said that’s an oxymoron… Have you figured it out yet?” I took my book and left with a grin.
“I’m working on it.”
Following Vice President Gore, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander visited our Presidential Leadership class last Wednesday. Having served as the Governor of Tennessee, Secretary of Education, and now Senator for fifteen years, he had a little bit of leadership experience to share!
The Senator was able to speak about different leadership styles needed in various jobs and situations, as well as how the dynamics of American government have changed over his many years of service. Again taking questions from both professors and the class, he discussed his positions on issues, memorable moments from his career, and the importance of youth engaging with politics.
Hearing his insights capped three days of meeting more famed, accomplished people than I had even thought possible. Evidently my fortune ran out, however, as a ticket to see Vice President Biden alluded me despite earnest efforts. So, here’s to overflow viewing areas… and the genuine thrill of meeting childhood heroes.