The alumni of Bradley University have served their communities in an endless variety of ways, but few of them have done so serving as incumbent state governors.
On Oct. 1, Laura Kelly, governor of Kansas, spoke in the Peplow Pavilion of the Hayden-Clark Alumni Center about her path into politics and how she strives to make the most of it. Kelly is the first Bradley graduate to be elected governor, and the pavilion was filled to hear her share her experiences.
Nonprofit leadership coordinator Brad McMillan and psychology department chair Anthony Hermann hosted the event, with the latter taking interest in the opportunity as Kelly graduated from Bradley with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
“Psychology isn’t usually seen as mixing with political careers, but it’s really relevant,” Hermann said.
The Dirksen Congressional Center, in partnership with Bradley organizations including the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service and the psychology department, sponsored the event. Melody Hampton, an intern for the institute, noted a number of complications in arranging Kelly’s arrival.
“There [was] a little confusion because it’s Homecoming and also because of COVID, so we’re just happy that it was able to work out and worked out really well,” Hampton, junior political science and English double major, said.
The event was titled “A Conversation & Cookies,” as attendees were welcomed by a display of sugar cookies outside the pavilion adorned with the Bradley logo, an outline of Kansas and frosting in the shape of the Kansas state flower: the sunflower.
Kelly began the afternoon answering questions from McMillan and Hermann. Among the questions asked included how Kelly’s psychology major factored into her political tenure. She expressed that the party percentages when she joined the Kansas state senate (eight Democrats to 32 Republicans) led her to embrace dialogue with opposing perspectives by necessity.
“Figure out a way to know them … and get to know what moves them, and be very willing to compromise and collaborate rather than be aggressively pushing forward,” Kelly said.
Another question asked for more in-depth details on how Kelly gathered bipartisan support, including the endorsements of 28 Republican officials, in becoming the governor of Kansas. She noted the devastating economic effects of an income tax cut signed by former state governor Sam Brownback, asserting that “things would have been worse” with her Republican election opponent Kris Kobach, and emphasized the importance of crossover appeal during general elections.
Following this session, the floor was then opened for the audience to engage with Kelly. Several senators from the Bradley Student Senate were present and offered Kelly questions.
Chairperson of campus safety and community relations Landon Finn asked Kelly how her experience growing up in different American eras influenced her efforts to find unity amid nationwide division. She expressed how her time at Bradley was marked by its own extreme polarization, including Vietnam War protests and multiple high-profile killings (including that of Martin Luther King Jr.).
“That’s just human nature … there are always going to be those kinds of things; it’s how you deal with it,” Kelly said. “I have to recognize what’s in my control and what’s not. … What I can do is focus on my state and recognize how we can get things done there.”
Furthermore, chairperson of academic affairs Kaitlyn Morrison asked Kelly for any advice to future teachers.
“At least early in your career, the difference you’re gonna make is going to be in that classroom with those individual kids,” Kelly said. “Engage the families so they can make sure that they’re on the same page, they know where the kid is and they can reinforce what they’re doing in the classroom at home.”
Another attendee asked about Kelly’s journey to winding up in Bradley. She said that she didn’t plan to stay for long upon arrival but immersed herself in the campus environment, citing the intimate class sizes and diversity of experience among her peers as highlights.
Kelly said that some of her fondest memories are of her sorority picking her to partake in outlandish activities such as a dance contest.
“Those, honestly, are the kind of things that I remember outside of the classroom,” Kelly said.
The event concluded with the opportunity for attendees to speak and take pictures with Kelly in person, and the audience was receptive to the opportunity.
“I thought it went really great,” Hampton said. “I was just really happy that she agreed to do this event and she wasn’t afraid to get down in there and actually talk about important topics — topics that can be a little controversial — and just be willing to answer students’ questions and talk to them about everything from psychology to politics.”
Kelly’s time and words lingered with the audience as the event concluded.
“I think the great thing about [the event] is it sort of allows students to think big about their lives, like, ‘Oh, a psychology major became governor? … Well, other things are possible too,’” Hermann said. “Also, personally as a psychology professor, I like it when we see how psychology applies to practical issues of living, governing [and] things like that.”
“The thing that really resonated with me, especially as someone who’s interested in politics, is just how important it is to be bipartisan and work across the aisle,” Hampton said. “Find that common ground, find what you’re interested in and go from there, because relationships are so important.”