Oct. 25, 2022 — Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern told NMH students that his public service began in 7th grade, when he volunteered on the failed 1972 presidential campaign of South Dakota Senator George McGovern (no relation), who was challenging the incumbent Richard Nixon.
“I was inspired by the things he was talking about — ending the war in Vietnam, protecting the environment, civil rights and human rights, and ending poverty and hunger, both domestically and globally,” the congressman told students during an all-school meeting in Memorial Chapel on Oct. 20. “I was attracted to that vision, and I thought I’d like a world like the one he is describing.”
While the South Dakota senator lost his bid for president — losing in 49 states but winning Massachusetts — Jim McGovern said his experience volunteering on that campaign helped propel his own path into public service and, eventually, a seat representing the 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
McGovern’s visit was part of NMH’s yearlong learning theme of citizenship and service. Each year, NMH “puts speakers in conversation with our students” about the learning theme, said Grant Gonzalez, assistant head of school for campus life. Previous themes have focused on environmental stewardship and social justice.
First elected in 1996, McGovern was appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as chair of the powerful House Rules Committee during the 116th Congress. The Worcester native is now a senior member of the House Committee on Agriculture’s Subcommittee on Nutrition and Oversight. He also serves as chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and is the Democratic co-chair of the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. Both commissions monitor, investigate, and advocate on behalf of international human rights, the rule of law, and good governance. McGovern, who has focused on ending hunger throughout his tenure in Congress, was an organizer of the recent White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health.
During his remarks, McGovern encouraged students to take action and find a way to serve. Then he fielded questions about public service and politics, hunger and nutrition, health care, international conflicts, education, the criminal justice system, and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“This is a time when you know what you believe in,” he said. “I don’t think anyone in the world right now has the luxury to do nothing, to sit back. We all have an obligation to be engaged. I’m a big believer that if you want to do something, you just do it.”
Several students shared about projects they are working on as part of the Rhodes Fellowship Course in Social Entrepreneurship, including Jasper Graham ’23 (shown left) who is working with Lulu Calame ’23 to address barriers to food security in Western Massachusetts.
“Afterwards, I got to ask him about the main causes of hunger and food insecurity in our area,” Graham said. “I was struck by how interested he was in our projects, and he even expressed a wish to come to our class and both answer our questions and hear about our work more extensively.”
Athena Zhao ’23 and Peach Reeder ’23 told McGovern about their social enterprise to empower children impacted by the criminal justice system, using art to encourage creativity and self-expression and to fight against social stigma.
“The congressman seemed interested in our project and he was willing to help us set up connections with the sheriff’s office,” Zhao said.
Math teacher Mark Yates said giving students access to elected representatives like McGovern “makes politics, generally an abstraction, real. They are real people, ideally solving real problems. Because McGovern is doing his job, millions of kids in Africa get a school lunch. That's a pretty good day at work.”
Delphi Lyra ’24 found McGovern’s visit motivating as she considers how she can serve others.
“Not only does it inspire us for possible careers in our future and dedicating our jobs to humanity and purpose, it also brings us out of the bubble of NMH into the real world and helps set our schooling in the context of the greater community, nation, and world,” she said.
And McGovern said he was equally inspired.
“I am leaving here more optimistic,” he told students at the end of his visit. “You give me great hope.”