Many Rockhurst graduates have gone on to interesting and successful careers, but Mr. Tim Kaine, class of 1976, may have the most interesting. Mr. Kaine is a US senator representing the state of Virginia. After graduating Rockhurst, Senator Kaine attended University of Missouri and then Harvard Law School. Senator Kaine practiced law for 17 years in Richmond, Virginia while teaching part-time at the University of Richmond before being elected as a city councilman in 1994. Subsequently he was Mayor of Richmond, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia and was inaugurated as Virginia’s 70th Governor in 2006. He was elected to the US Senate in 2012. We had a chance to ask Senator Kaine about his time at Rockhurst, the beginnings of his political career and his thoughts on politics in general.
Why don’t we start out talking about Rockhurst and your experience there. What was your favorite part of Rockhurst?
So much was positive about my time at Rockhurst–great friends, influential teachers, strong academics, sincere school spirit. But the best element was the Jesuit “men for others” social justice tradition that has affected all I’ve done since graduating.
What is your fondest memory of your time at Rockhurst?
I have a special memory of retreats with Father Jim White and my close friends from the Class of ’76. One involved a spring camping trip high on a cliff at the Lake of the Ozarks. It seems like yesterday.
How did Rockhurst influence you by the time you graduated? What were some more long term effects that Rockhurst had on you?
When I was at Rockhurst, I participated significantly in spring mission drives to fund Jesuit activities in Honduras. I even went to Honduras in the Spring of 1974 to present the annual proceeds and see first-hand how we were helping. I vowed to return one day and was able to take a year off law school in 1980-81 to go back and volunteer with wonderful Missouri province Jesuits and their Spanish and Honduran counterparts, who worked hard everyday to live and preach the Good News among the poor in Yoro Province. What I learned that year from the Jesuits and the comunidad put me on a public service path that has now stretched to 30+ years as a civil rights lawyer, teacher and elected official.
Have you always had a passion for politics?
My family was very non-political as I grew up, but it was a tumultuous time in the era of civil rights advocacy and the Vietnam War. We read morning and evening newspapers every day and cared deeply about what was happening in our country and world.
Were you involved in politics during your time at Rockhurst? If not, what were your primary involvements during high school?
I was pretty involved in student government, but mostly as a losing candidate! I lost student council races in 9th and 11th grade (after a pre-Rockhurst loss in 6th grade) before finally winning a race for student council President in 12th grade. Looking back, I’m not sure how I mustered the willpower to keep trying despite repeated rejection. But I learned a valuable life lesson: Failing at something you care about is painful but ultimately less destructive to one’s sense of self than not trying.
What is your favorite part about being a US Senator?
I love my service on the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees. America has a unique leadership role in the world–to do it right, we have to balance military, economic, diplomatic and humanitarian strengths. I get to work on this everyday and promote what’s good about our country around the world. And, because of my Spanish fluency, I have even been able to do work that takes advantage of, and deepens, my ties to Honduras and all of Latin America.
What are you most proud of in your career?
My Rockhurst education and my time in Honduras convinced me to work on bridge building across old lines that divide people. As a civil rights lawyer, as Mayor of Richmond, as Governor of a very diverse state, as an original co-chair of the Obama campaign in 2008 and now in the Senate, I always seek ways to promote a more inclusive society. The challenge never ends and I have been especially blessed that my wife Anne and our children live the same passion, each in their own ways.
Do you have a message for any students who may be interested in going into the field of politics or political science?
I am worried that politics is a less and less attractive option for talented young people. Financial sacrifice, time away from family, the certainty of harsh criticism and the unpopularity of government all make it less and less likely that good people will get involved. But after 20 years, I can say that politics done right is enormously satisfying on a moral level, even when you are painfully aware of your own everyday failures. We’re sinful and imperfect people, and our political system also can disappoint us. But when I lived in Honduras under a military dictatorship that deprived people of even the right to vote, I learned to value what we have and do my little bit to protect and better it. I encourage RHS students to have that same civic pride. Whether as a voter, a volunteer or a candidate, you can play a very important role.
For more information on Senator Kaine, visit his website, http://www.kaine.senate.gov/