Captains in the Capital

CNU students travelled to Richmond to meet with state legislators, alumni

~Morgan Barclay, Editor-in-Chief~

Capitalizing on an immersive political opportunity, CNU students journeyed to Richmond Monday to see Virginia politicians in action. Part of a new program called “Captains in the Capital,” the administration’s selected group of around twenty-five students were given the opportunity to attend panels, meet with Newport News representatives, talk with their respective senators and delegates about their experiences at CNU and more.

Long before the day in Richmond, students were sent program applications at the beginning of January. 

For some, the question of applying was a no-brainer.

“I am interested in local and state governments,” sophomore Matthew Arthur said. “They’re not as appreciated as they should be [and] they’re vital to our democracy.”

For sophomore Lawson Herold, his interest centered on exploring career options.

“[I applied] to potentially see if I want a career in the political sphere,” Herold said.

Regardless of their reasons for applying, all selected students joined Director of External Relations Tom Kramer and PLP Director Lacey Grey Hunter in an informative session at CNU about state government before the big day on Feb. 4. They learned the ins-and-outs of a normal day in state Congress and reviewed their proposed schedule. 

Although many things on the schedule changed, the early morning was not one of them. 

At 5:45 a.m., the team loaded onto a bus, making their way to Richmond. They were joined by President Paul Trible, Dean Quentin Kidd, Dr. Rachel Bitecofer and Kramer.

Upon arriving in Richmond, students went to the Omni Hotel where the attended the ‘Eggs and Issues’ event, an informative breakfast featuring a speech, presentation and open panel discussion. 

Trible opened the event with a speech that honored CNU students and welcomed them to the capital.

Bitecofer then presented on her work with The Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy, of which she is Assistant Director. With in-depth discussion of the data, Bitecofer’s remarks were also meant to inform students on the most pressing issues facing state Congress. 

Next, Kidd hosted a panel discussion, bringing aboard Senator Frank Wagner (R-7) and Senator T. ‘Monty’ Mason (D-1) to answer questions concerning the Virginia-specific issues. The representatives answered questions about transportation, health insurance reform and education. 

Wagner has served in the State Congress for 28 years, representing VA’s 7th District, which covers western half of Virginia Beach and northeastern Norfolk.

Mason has served in the State Congress for three years, being elected during the 2016 special elections. He currently represents VA’s 1st District, which includes all of the City of Williamsburg and parts of Newport News, Hampton, Suffolk, James City County and York County.

Following the panel, students walked to Pocahontas Building where they were greeted by Delegate Mike Mullin (D-93) and Delegate David Yancey (R-94). The two talked about the importance of history on modern day politics, making note of the many busts and faces of past leaders that surrounded them.

Mullin, a CNU graduate (and former Editor-in-Chief of The Captain’s Log) was elected in 2016. He represents the 93rd District, which includes Williamsburg, parts of James City, York and Newport News. Yancey, born and raised in Newport News, was elected in 2011 and represents the 94th District. 

Right before 10 a.m when the House was called into session, students found their seats in the gallery above the floor and watched a session unfold before their eyes. 

On the floor, Del. Yancey recognized CNU students, who stood up in the gallery. After around twenty minutes of the session, a recess was called and CNU students adjourned into a conference room in the Pocahontas Building. There, Trible spoke more in depth about his past career as a Senator and why he chose to become a university president.

He addressed the change in the political landscape while recognizing it as a noble and “thankless” career, emphasizing the service and sacrifice of a job in the public sphere.

Following this speech, a panel of CNU alumni working in the Capital addressed the students, many of whom work for Yancey.

The panel spoke specifically about the process of getting their careers and the impact CNU had on their lives post-graduation. 

“To hear the stories and experiences of my fellow students was one of my favorite experiences of the day,” Herold said.

The group was on the move again as the alumni guided students to their representatives offices. There, CNU students got a chance to speak openly with their representatives. If their representatives were not available, they were able to talk with their legislative aids or leave a letter.

Many students chose to talk about their experience at CNU, how they believe the school has impacted them and an issue that they were passionate about. All students gifted their representatives with a CNU mug. 

“I didn’t realize how accessible they were to the general public,” Herold said.

Coming out of these talks some were even offered potential jobs.

“Both [legislative aids I talked to] wanted me to help with their candidates’ re-election bids so I’m really excited to be in contact with them,” Arthur said.

With the busy day coming to a close, CNU students regrouped and had lunch with alumni, who spoke further about getting jobs in government and emphasized the importance of taking advantage of events like this one, as well as internships. 

Many felt positive towards their experience in Richmond.  

“Getting to connect to alumni and be able to talk to members of the general assembly was eye-opening,” freshman Andrew Cagle said.

Herold expressed similar sentiments.

“Today reaffirmed how much the faculty, staff and alumni embody and embrace the spirit of Christopher Newport,” Herold said. 

CNU has not announced if this event will continue next year.

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