On Thursday evening, opposing philosophies were set aside on Bradley’s campus. Political figures and community members recognized Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos’ contributions to Peoria as she will soon celebrate the end of her Congressional career.
Bustos had been awarded an honorary doctorate degree of humane letters from Bradley. On April 21, Bradley hosted a ceremony in the Hayden-Clark Alumni Center to commemorate the moment and celebrate over 15 years of the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service (IPL).
IPL recognizes bipartisan collaboration to face issues in America. Bustos’ political participation was highlighted by speakers such as U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, current and former Mayors of Peoria Rita Ali and Jim Ardis, former Congressman and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and many more.
“I’ve always said that when you look at bipartisan, there’s a lot of different ways to look at it; I look at politics as a team sport,” Bustos said.
Bustos gave the example of a charity softball game of female representatives where both political parties came together to raise money for breast cancer. The Congresswoman stated that initiatives such as this one can help make a change in America.
University President Stephen Standifird presented the award to the Congresswoman after noting a resemblance in character and action.
“Not surprisingly, I believe there are some very common traits between our founder and representative Bustos,” Standifird said.
Standifird compared Bustos to Lydia Moss Bradley’s belief that Bradley will stand against the tests of time as long as the U.S. government lasts and Bradley students that wish to sustain the U.S. government. Also compared was their hands-on work in the public through numerous projects.
One of those examples was what the Congresswoman had been dubbed: “Cheri on Shift.” Bustos earned the nickname from working over 100 jobs including as a construction worker, forklift driver and kitchen cook.
In her acceptance speech for the degree, Bustos said that these were the people she remembered when making policies.
“It’s a real honor,” Bustos said. “I always feel like the word ‘humble’ is overused, but I don’t really know how to explain it other than that I’m humbled by it.”
Student Body President Emma Hoyhtya was also at the event, and she said that being in the presence of these politicians helped humanize them.
“I just think being in a room with like-minded people who are walking in the same direction is so refreshing to see,” Hoyhtya said. “I always make the joke that I couldn’t go into politics because I couldn’t handle [how] 50 percent of the population would hate me right off the bat.”
Hoyhtya said she has since shifted that mindset to now viewing that “50 percent” as one she should be ready to listen to and work with instead.
Various speakers said that agreeing on all policies isn’t possible, but the common topic of respect was amplified. Bustos agreed with this as well.
“Let me just put the themes together — teamwork, bipartisanship [and] relentless focus on local, local, local, and that is how we got things done,” Bustos said. “It really is a team sport.”
As she finishes her fifth term, Bustos is open to exploring what life after her work in government is going to look like.
“I figured I’m young enough, I’m energetic enough, I’m healthy, my kids are all grown; I think that I’m going to do something meaningful and exciting and a different way to make a difference,” Bustos said. “And I don’t know what that is yet. I’m not trying to be coy, I actually don’t know what that is.”
Even without certain plans for the future herself, the degree awarded by Bradley, her career in politics and her service to Illinois made Bustos feel like she was leaving on a high note.