Ever since 1859, when Willamette graduated its first student and Oregon gained statehood, the university and the Capitol have built a mutually enriching relationship.
Many students intern at the state government buildings across the street from campus, where they issue briefs and organize House and Senate bills. And after graduation, some find work there as senators, representatives, lobbyists and Supreme Court justices.
To celebrate this relationship, Willamette University Alumni Association hosted a networking reception on April 2 attended by more than 100 current students and alumni.
The panel of speakers included Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson '68, D-Gresham; State Rep. Tobias Read '97, D-Beaverton; Timothy Sekerak '87, chief clerk for the Oregon House of Representatives; lobbyist Cindy Robert '90; Oregon Supreme Court Justice Virginia Linder JD'80 and politics professor David Gutterman.
“Willamette students aren’t just doing low-level work at the Capitol,” Gutterman says. “They have significant responsibilities that allow them to develop their skills and envision themselves as public servants.”
One of those public servants, Justice Linder, discussed her decision to attend Willamette’s College of Law because of its proximity to the Capitol.
“Willamette appealed to me because it was at the seat of state government,” she says. “I thought, ‘How much more interesting could it be to study law in the place where law and policy are being made?’”
Sekerak says he recognized the importance of face-to-face meetings between Willamette students and alumni working at the Capitol.
“Time with state leaders and elected officials is valuable because it’s scarce,” he says. “In the future, you want to be able to say, ‘You might not remember me but I met you.’”
Students say they found the presentation and conversation inspiring.
“As I’m graduating, it’s great to have a group of alumni willing to help me,” says rhetoric major Anna Walling ’15.
Many attendees expressed a hope for similar Capitol Connections events in the future.
“There’s such energy and enthusiasm, and we can justifiably highlight the strong connection between Willamette and the state government,” Gutterman says.
“Sometimes we’re a little quieter and we hide that light, but I think it’s a light that really should shine.”
• Article by Emma Jonas ’15, creative writing major