On November 15, history faculty member Michael Polebaum began assembly by sharing that he learned one of the most important lessons about leadership from the man who was about to take the stage. For his first job out of college, Polebaum worked as a member of Joe Kennedy III’s congressional campaign. During that time, he learned “that real leadership isn’t what you do when the cameras are on, but what you do when no one is looking. It’s about acting with integrity 100 percent of the time and bringing people in rather than shutting people out.” During his time with the Nobles community, Kennedy captivated students by asking which current events were top-of-mind for them. This, coupled with a stellar sense of humor, turned into an engaging community discussion, driven not by the notable political figure but by the thoughtful questions of curious and informed Nobles students.
An American politician and diplomat, Kennedy currently serves as the United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland. During his four terms in the United States House of Representatives, Kennedy’s work focused on economic policy, health care and civil rights. He is also the founder of the Groundwork Project, which seeks to advocate for a more responsive and representative democracy that can deliver justice, equity, and opportunity for all. But Kennedy did not visit Nobles to talk about his own accomplishments. The only item on Kennedy’s agenda for the morning? To create a space for thoughtful, student-driven questions.
“I’m not going to talk at you for the next 57 minutes,” he continued. “I found that when I was a student, and now in life, having somebody come before you and talk at you for an hour is a pretty good way to just zone out. So I’m going to try not to do that. What I’d love to do is just turn this into a conversation. I’m curious—what’s actually on your mind?”
After narrowing down the list with the students’ help, Kennedy read the final selections: the conflict between Israel and Gaza, government shutdown, AI, Ukraine Impeachment, Northern Ireland, immigration, Kennedy’s time spent in the Dominican Republic while working for the Peace Corps, and what the Kennedy family eats for Thanksgiving. After sharing some thoughts about each topic, Kennedy then shifted gears, giving students the opportunity to ask additional questions. Among the questions that students asked were the following:
- How do you feel about ranked-choice voting?
- How do you think the United States has been doing with regard to engaging with developing countries, and how do you think we could do better?
- What are some ways in which the United States could build a more positive relationship with Russia while still helping Ukraine?
- What could the United States government be doing to maintain Taiwan’s semi-independence and prevent another war?
- How do you feel that your last name and family history have impacted how people perceive you in both your job and life?
- How do you think misinformation is going to be spread in the upcoming election and how could tech companies handle it?