Two Georgetown University graduates reelected to Congress in the 2020 election reflected on the mentorship opportunities and exposure to politics at Georgetown that influenced their journeys to the House of Representatives.
Reps. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) (SFS ’95) and Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) (GRD ’04), who both won their reelection campaigns during the Nov. 3 election, wrote to The Hoya about the factors that led them to run for office and their goals for the next term.
Twenty-four graduates who ran for seats in the 117th Congress won their bids, including graduates from the Georgetown University Law Center, undergraduate programs and masters programs in the School of Foreign Service. In 2016, the Law Center’s law-school graduate representation in Congress was second only to that of graduates from Harvard Law School. Twenty-two graduates were elected or reelected to the House of Representatives, and two graduates were reelected to their seats in the Senate. Jon Ossoff (SFS ’09) is a candidate for a Georgia Senate seat in the runoff election Jan. 5.
Below is a record of the interviews conducted via email with Reps. Trahan and Murphy, edited for length and clarity.
How did your time at Georgetown influence your decision to pursue a career in public service?
Trahan: I grew up in a working-class family in Lowell, attended public schools and started working when I was 11 years old. Going to college was always my dream, but hardly something my parents could afford. So earning a scholarship to play volleyball at Georgetown was a game-changer. I became the first person in my family to graduate from college, and that opportunity changed the trajectory of my life. Georgetown greatly expanded my horizons. It changed my perspective dramatically on what was possible to achieve because of the caliber of faculty, advisors, students and guests on campus. At some point, what seeped into my soul was that government was good — an instrument for making people’s lives better. It’s the body that holds up and protects the Constitution and makes sure we’re living up to it. Georgetown absolutely shaped my belief in government, policy and our country’s role in the world.
Were you involved in student government while at Georgetown?
Trahan: I was unable to participate in so much of what Georgetown offered on campus beyond the classroom because I played volleyball, and it consumed much of my time both in season and during the offseason. So, student government, studying abroad and internships weren’t things I could take part in. That being said, when I arrived at Georgetown, the 1992 presidential season was underway, and it felt like we had a front-row seat to then-Governor Clinton’s campaign. While that was going on, I was also studying at the School of Foreign Service with the hopes of becoming a foreign service officer. After graduating, I began working on Capitol Hill, and I loved it — the policy, the advocacy, the negotiation and the opportunity to serve the people from my hometown. While running for office myself wasn’t something I had ever planned, the seeds were clearly planted during my years on the Hilltop and Capitol Hill.
What are your legislative goals for this next term?
Trahan: Starting on Inauguration Day, we’ll be able to jumpstart the wheels of progress that came to a grinding halt at the federal level four years ago. We’ll deliver on COVID-19 pandemic relief, protect and strengthen health care, create good-paying jobs, fund high-quality public schools, tackle climate change and so much more. We also must ensure that we’re tackling racial and ethnic disparities in all of our policy decisions and begin the process of uniting our country. In my first term in Congress, nearly half of the bills that I introduced were with a Republican co-lead, and I believe this moment requires us all to reach across the divide and rebuild the muscle of working together.
What influenced your decision to run for office?
Murphy: I consider myself a patriot, not a politician. That’s because my story could only happen here in America. When I was just a baby, my family and I escaped Communist Vietnam by boat, and the U.S. Navy rescued us. We came to America as refugees and eventually became proud American citizens. My father worked hard at a power plant and my mom as a seamstress. Together, they took my brother and me to clean office buildings at night. They cleaned the same type of office buildings that I would later occupy as a businesswoman in the private sector.
Two moments in my life called me to public service. The first was when terrorists attacked our country on 9/11. I left the private sector to earn my master’s in foreign service at Georgetown and then eventually became a national security specialist at the Department of Defense under President George W. Bush. I later moved to Central Florida with my husband Sean when he had the opportunity to run a small business. I became a mom of two wonderful young children and then returned to the private sector as a businesswoman. But then, after I saw so much dark and divisive rhetoric in the 2016 presidential election, a gunman walked into the Pulse nightclub in my community and killed 49 innocent people. I really felt like you couldn’t have that level of hateful rhetoric and not expect to see it manifest itself in acts of violence in your community. Moreover, the man who had represented my district took a check from the National Rifle Association only two days after that shooting. I decided that the only way you can change Washington is to change the type of people we send to Washington. So I ran a long-shot, four-month campaign against a 24-year incumbent, and I won.
Do you have any mentors from Georgetown that made a lasting impact?
Murphy: I had great professors in professor Ted Moran, Mike Callen, Bruce Everett and others who taught me a lot about trade, business and geopolitics. Maria Pinto Carland, the associate director [of the MSFS program at the time], taught me about the importance of networking and the power of MSFS moments — which brings me to Madeleine Albright, with whom I was not lucky enough to study under in grad school, but with whom I’ve had the privilege of working as a member of Congress. I admire a fellow refugee and immigrant who went on to be a great secretary of state.
Do you have any advice for Georgetown students who want to run for office one day?
Murphy: No matter the odds, have the courage to try. If you run a campaign on your ideas and in a way that makes you proud and remains true to your values, there is no shame in defeat — and it makes winning all the more special.