By Rachel Rubin
Before they were national names, they were Hart Leadership Program speakers.
In the last 10 years, the HLP has brought four contenders in the already-crowded 2020 Democratic primary field to Duke’s campus: New Jersey Senator (then-Newark Mayor) Cory Booker, former HUD Secretary (then-San Antonio Mayor) Julián Castro, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Each of these distinguished speakers came as part of the Hart Leadership Program’s Connect2Politics Initiative, a leadership program for Duke undergraduates intended to promote greater political engagement. C2P continues to invite speakers to campus each year to expose students to a new generation of young political leaders.
Cory Booker spoke at Sanford in February of 2009 and called on to students, staff and faculty to commit themselves to political engagement and social justice. In his talk, “The Next Generation of Political Leadership,” Booker reminded students that “we are so much more capable of becoming the society we want to achieve.”
“[Politics] is a sphere that touches everything we do, and it can’t be surrendered. It must be participated in,” Booker told the audience.
His talk ranged from Biblical references to tales of his improbable journey from being a Rhodes Scholar and Yale-educated lawyer to becoming a community organizer in one of Newark’s toughest housing projects. He currently serves as the junior Senator from New Jersey.
When Julián Castro came to campus in April of 2014, he recounted his path from Stanford to Harvard Law to becoming San Antonio’s youngest-ever city council-member—not to mention later Mayor and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration.
“The truth is that y’all belong to a generation of young people who have both the privilege and the challenge of coming of age at a time when the world is changing faster than it has at any other time in human history,” he said.
He encouraged students to see themselves as agents of change and necessary participants in our democracy.
Tulsi Gabbard, the first member of the Hindu faith to be elected to the chamber and one of the first two female combat veterans ever to hold a seat, presented a talk and met with students in April of 2015. Her lecture — called “Second Service” — highlighted her military career and her transition into public service as a veteran. Gabbard has been serving Hawaii’s 2nd district since 2013.
Pete Buttigieg, affectionately known as “Mayor Pete,” also came to Duke in 2015. At the time, he was America’s youngest mayor of a city with a population over 100,000. He was a commissioned Naval intelligence officer who deployed to Afghanistan during his first term as mayor.
His talk drew on his record of education and public service to encourage students not to be afraid of proposing innovative policies and initiatives because of their youth. He also emphasized the importance of policy work on the municipal level. Buttigieg would be the first openly gay nominee.
This year, C2P’s events have centered on broad definitions of political engagement and how practitioners are tackling a range of pressing contemporary ethical and political challenges. Last fall, we hosted three speakers who talked about the history and future of student voting rights and an event focused on the ongoing activism of Dreamers.
C2P’s first event of the new semester, “Remembering White Supremacy”, featured members of the Durham City-County Commission on Confederate Monuments. Our second event, to be held Feb. 25, builds on the effort to put history to work by bringing students into dialogue with emerging leaders who are finding ways to expand citizen engagement beyond the immediate electoral cycle. The third event Connect2Politics event, “Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide,” features Jacob Bachmeier, who was elected to the Montana State House at the age of 17.