A Shared Passion for People: A Fellow’s Perspective on the National Convening of Newman Civic Fellows

By Tristan Anderson, Bergen Community College

This blog post is part of a two part series on the First Annual National convening of Newman Civic Fellows hosted by Campus Compact the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. The two essays in this series are written by Newman Civic Fellows who won an essay competition among attendees of the convening. This essay is written by Tristan Anderson, a student in the General Mathematics and Science program at Bergen Community College.


 

My name is Tristan Anderson and I am a 2016 Newman Civic Fellow, it sounds nice doesn’t it? But what does it truly mean to be a “Civic Fellow”? This and many other questions would be answered as I took a trip down to Boston, Massachusetts and participated in the 2016 Newman Civic Fellows National Convening.

The purpose of this convening was to give me and other Fellows like myself an opportunity to network with one another and to gain a better understanding of how the governing body functions. However, this brief description does not do justice to this incredible experience.  One of the most important ingredients to completing a successful project is to have great people supporting it and this meeting was jam packed with outstanding individuals.

I still remember going into the main lobby of the hotel, taking my seat at a glass table and getting swarmed by numerous fellows with questions like, “Where are you from,” What’s your name?” etc. The conference hadn’t even officially started yet. From the overall energetic atmosphere of the room and the way we behaved with each other, passersby thought that we all knew each other or at least came from the same school.  It was shocking to realize that besides limited Facebook conversations, we were all complete strangers. None the less, as soon as I was beginning to adjust to the rapid stream of discussion, it was time for us to leave and visit the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate where the real fun would begin.

The best part of this event was the discussions, which were completely organic. I quickly realized that these people genuinely wanted to know and understand who I was as a person, and it became clear that we were all committed to making the most out of these two days.  It was moments like these that I look back on and cherish because this experience has become a catalyst motivating me not only to continue my civic duty but also to do more on a bigger, grander scale.

Getting back to the event, as we entered the Institute we were warmly welcomed by Dr. Andrew Seligsohn, the President of Campus Compact, who remarked on the importance of civic duty and of our role as the future leaders. He was followed shortly by Dr. Jean MacCormack who remarked on how happy she was to have us there and the historical importance of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate as a whole.  As she finished, Steve Kerrigan, a Democratic politician who worked under Edward Kennedy, came to close us out, and he was captivating.  With every word he was brimming with pride and energy as he spoke about his experiences with Edward Kennedy and Kennedy’s experience as a senator.  Mr. Kerrigan reinvigorated our spirits and spoke highly of the potential we all possessed to create positive, lasting change on a global scale.  We quickly engaged him in order to gain some insight into his experiences by asking questions about what he felt was most important to being a leader and what he thought of today’s political climate.

Moving forward from this inspirational dialogue, we had the networking reception which was one of the highlights of the night for me.  Like a congregation of philosophers, we spoke to each other and quickly moved past any superficial dialogue and delved into deep discussion on philosophy, politics, and global issues and debated how issues should be dealt with. I recall a discussion that involved debating what it meant to truly love someone and the difference between compassion and mercy.  By the time we returned to the lobby, we had already developed a deep kinship with each other and were excited for the following day. The next day began with a Senate Immersion Module (SIM) that we all participated in.  Through the SIM, we were able to simulate what happens in the U.S. Senate and to see what it was like to be a senator in the government. Experiencing the SIM was like having an identity switch; each fellow was assigned the role of a different senator with different values that coordinated with their party and state interest. As this senator you were expected to act as this new individual sacrificing your own personal views in favor of the new ones you embody. Luckily you are given a guide map to discern how you should behave in your new role. During a workshop on collaboration after the SIM, we analyzed the different facets of relationships and how we go about not only forming, but improving relationships.

Sadly all things must come to an end, and after participating in this amazing event we neared the conclusion. Thanks to this experience, I was able to hear from other students like myself who shared a passion for people. While we all had different perspectives, these diverse perspectives led to rich dialogue that helped me generate new ideas and concepts that I ended up bringing back to my own campus to utilize. Leaving the convening, I was teeming with ideas. One was having an annual youth summit where students could get together to exchange and share ideas, discuss issues and concerns. I also thought about how every summer my parents plant tons of vegetables, herbs, and fruits and supply our friends and neighbors. What if some of our neighbors were willing to do the same thing and everyone were to contribute the excess to the community chest, which would then be distributed to local food pantries to feed the homeless or families who might need a helping hand? There are so many other community-driven efforts we could do if we pooled resources: clothing drives, book drives, school supplies and fundraisers.  We as a people are so much stronger together and sometimes we just need to be motivated.  My experiences at the National Convening of Newman Civic Fellows enabled me to grow not only mentally but spiritually and helped me make unforgettable connections.

 

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