“I will never forget that the only reason I’m standing here today is because somebody, somewhere stood up for me when it was risky…And because that somebody stood up, a few more stood up. And then a few thousand stood up. And then a few million stood up. And standing up, with courage and clear purpose, they somehow managed to change the world.”
This is one of my favorite quotes from my boss for the last 5 years… Barack Obama. It also sounds a lot like the things I heard at Xavier as part of our faith and social justice programs. Evidence of the power of people calling for change motivated me throughout my college career. It also moved me to get involved in the Obama campaign and spend 5 years working tirelessly for that cause.
I graduated from Xavier in 2006. I will never forget the day that I drove out of Cincinnati that May, crying so hard I needed to pull my car over on I-75. I truly believed that I had just had the best four years of my life and I had no idea how any community of people would ever mean so much to me again. Xavier had been a perfect fit for me. I found a home at there and built relationships that continue to be pivotal to my daily life. I was involved in everything from retreats to service work to alternative breaks to service learning semesters to student government. And my whole view of the world got flipped on its head.
Many of my peers today say that they were politicized in college and I suppose that was true for me in some way… but I wouldn’t say that what I learned at Xavier led be directly to a political campaign. My experience at Xavier introduced me to the concept of social justice and the need for systematic change. It helped me understand that direct service is not enough. As Catholics, we are called to do more. I graduated from college determined to be a community organizer and play a part in changing the world.
I never thought that would lead me to a political campaign. I didn’t really consider myself a political person. But in 2007 I learned about a guy with a funny name making a long shot run for the 2008 Democratic nomination for President of the United States. He talked about things through a lens of social justice and relied on his faith as a guiding force in his life. Best of all, he started his career as a community organizer in Chicago.
The campaign was staffing up in the early states and they needed organizers. “I don’t have a chance at that job,” I thought. But, the Field Director for his campaign in South Carolina got a hold of my resume and gave me a call. Before I knew it, I was packing up the life I had built in DC in moving myself to a part of South Carolina where I had never been to work for a candidate whose name most voters could not pronounce. “Here we go…” I thought.
Obviously that candidate with a funny name did all right and is now in his second term in the White House. I worked for him as part of his campaign team until last December. Most recently, I was the National Director for Online Organizing for the 2012 campaign. I used what I learned at Xavier every day throughout those 5 years.
Through the faith and social justice programs at Xavier, I learned about the power of a small group of people working together with a common goal. I learned about the importance of building a team and the value of telling your story. I practiced meeting people where they are. And I watched people throw themselves 100% into things they cared about. I used those lessons on both campaigns everyday. Every new state I moved to, every volunteer I trained, every team I managed benefited from the lessons that Xavier taught me during my time there. The more senior I become in the organization, the more pertinent these lessons were.
Part of the point of writing this is to say “Thank You” to the Xavier family. You changed my life forever. But part of it is to also tell current students that the things that you are experiencing outside the classroom as part of your college experience matter in the work you will do in the future. One of the phrases I thought a lot about in college while pondering vocation was to figure out where “your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” I don’t know if I have found my ultimate vocation per se but I felt this when working for President Obama. Xavier prepared me to look for my path and go after it when I found it. And if you ask the right questions and listen to your soul, you have the tools to find yours too.
So, let’s go change the world.
Betsy Hoover (’06) was one of the original PPP majors at XU, was instrumental in the creation of STAR (the weekly service program that will morph into CFJ’s “X Change” program in August), and was a leader for the Encounter Retreat. Needless to say, her fingerprints are still present on Xavier’s campus!