To an audience of University of Mary Washington students Thursday evening, Senator Tim Kaine shared his recollection of the moment the seed that led to his career in public service was planted.
He was 22 years old and working at a school in Honduras. On off days, he would travel with a local priest to tiny villages to say Mass.
It was Christmas time, and at one village, he and the priest stopped to visit with a family that he could tell were living in extreme poverty.
The father of the family brought out a bag of food and gave it to the priest as a Christmas present, and Kaine—who spoke as part of a “A Call to Civic Action,” an event sponsored by UMW’s James Farmer Multicultural Center and the new Center for Community Engagement—said he watched in amazement as the priest accepted it.
“I was really judging him,” Kaine said. “I thought, ‘How can he take this bag of food from this family that really needs it?’”
The priest’s response to him was, “Tim, you’ve gotta be really humble to accept a bag of food from a family that poor.”
He explained that refusing the food would have deprived the family of the ability to give.
Kaine said this experience helped him learn that the ability to give back is what makes us human and inspired him to go into a career of public service later.
“It starts with the knowledge that you have something to give,” he said. “And we all stand in need of the assistance of others.”
Kaine spoke about the importance of youth involvement in the election process, giving examples of the results of two recent elections—the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the referendum over whether the U.K. should leave the European Union earlier that same year.
In both cases, he said, voters under aged 35, who have more future ahead of them, had a certain vision for that future, evidenced by the majority of their votes going in favor of staying in the European Union and for the Hilary Clinton-Tim Kaine presidential ticket.
Voters over 65 in both cases mostly supported the opposite side. And in both cases, turnout among older voters was about 25 percent higher than that among younger voters.
“If voters under 35 had turned out even 5 or 10 percent more, the outcomes would have been very different,” Kaine said.
“You would never outsource decisions about your romantic relationship, right?” he continued. “Why would you let someone else pick your leaders for you?”
Kaine also said he will be opening an office in Fredericksburg in about two months.
“We have an office in Manassas but we are realizing that we can’t represent all of northern Virginia from there,” he said.
The Fredericksburg office will be hiring a staff assistant and will have internship opportunities for UMW students, Kaine said.
Kaine spoke for about 20 minutes and then took questions from the audience.
Students lined up at a microphone to ask questions. When he was asked to stop taking questions to leave time for the second part of the evening’s program, Kaine asked all remaining students to ask their questions one after the other and then answered them all together.
Kaine’s talk was followed by a panel discussion with audience members on civic and political engagement featuring Brian Cannon, Executive Director of OneVirginia 2021; Joshua Cole, candidate for Delegate from the 28th District; Jacqueline Beaulieu, Organizer for NextGen Virginia; and Julia Romero, Deputy Pod Director for Take the Majority.