Story by Morgan Lynch
Photo by Madelaine Williams
Why did you choose to go to JMU?
I think I got into James Madison by happenstance almost. I did not have the application to apply to JMU … I completed it on the day of the deadline and submitted it with my personal statement and everything. A couple months later I got the big package in the mail and I got in. I almost think it was like destiny that I got into James Madison.
The reason I came to JMU is because I heard there’s always a particular mix of individuals that came to JMU and it wasn’t always all about having the best grades in the world or about being a super athlete. It was a great mix of people that created a great community and that’s what attracted me to JMU. I thought I would excel in an environment like that and I did.
What did you major in?
I majored in public administration and political science, so I was a double major in those two fields.
How did you go from JMU to being Governor McAuliffe’s Secretary of the Commonwealth?
I would say hard work and starting from the bottom and working myself up. I first was an intern on a campaign, knocking on doors in Maryland for a political campaign. After that I joined a campaign here in Virginia, while I was still in college over the summer. That job was also knocking on doors being a field director. Then I worked myself up from an organizer to the Executive Director of the Democratic Party in Virginia when I was 26 years old, back in 2007 or 2008. From there, I met the governor along the way and I advised the governor from 2010 to 2013. I was his campaign manager, and after we won in 2013, the governor asked if I would serve as the Secretary of the Commonwealth. When the governor asks, you say yes, and I said yes.
How did what you learned at JMU help you in your career?
I’ve always has an idea of where I wanted to be in my life and I just needed a launch pad to get there and James Madison provided me that launch pad. It is one thing to learn in the classroom about political science and public administration. So, I learned the skills in the classroom but I thought JMU provided me the opportunity to learn outside the classroom, to actually exhibit leadership and also to learn from others. Every single day there is something that I do that I can apply to what I learned back at James Madison either when I was in the classroom of when I was outside the classroom in a leadership position. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for JMU.
How did it feel to speak at December graduation last year?
That was a lifelong dream. I’ll admit that I never would have ever thought that I would be the graduation speaker for my alma mater. To be asked to come give the commencement speech to a huge crowd in the Convocation Center made me somewhat nervous but also made me very, very proud to be a JMU Duke. It will always be a day I will remember. The day I entered JMU, the day I graduated from JMU and the day I gave the commencement at JMU. All three of those moments I will always remember.