After graduation, I joined Teach For America to teach high school math to the greatest students in Oklahoma. After three wonderful, impossibly hard years, I realized the majority of challenges my students encountered could not be addressed in a classroom but through systemic change. So I moved back to Washington, D.C., but I was admittedly a little lost. I started working in a long-term care facility during the day and bartending at night to make ends meet.
I did not realize then how deeply I had been impacted by what I saw my students go through in their everyday lives or how I still hadn’t processed one of my students being killed just a few months prior, but with time I realized I needed to take on the challenges my students faced.
As a 30-year-old, attending graduate school after working for almost a decade was tremendously daunting, but I knew I was letting my students down by ignoring my promise to fight for systemic change. Giving up was not an option, and I would encourage any students wondering, as I once was, if it’s worth the risk to pursue their calling to trust themselves and work for what they believe in.
I arrived at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy with an air of trepidation and inner turmoil, but my uncertainty dissipated on the first day of orientation. Mo Elleithee (SFS ’94), the executive director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service, came and spoke to new students about the GU Politics program, which I thought sounded too good to be true. I slowly began to get involved with GU Politics by attending the sessions of fellows like Joe Crowley, who was incredibly personable, vulnerable and honest about his political career. He and other fellows inspired me to get even more involved and take a leap of faith by joining a Student Strategy Team.
Within five seconds of meeting then-GU Politics Fellow Julie Pace, now the executive editor and senior vice president of The Associated Press, I knew I had to work with her. I got the gig and found a mentor and friend in Julie Pace. Our discussion group became the best part of my weekly routine, and I will cherish it always as a bright spot in the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With these weekly discussion groups, hearing Julie’s insight and meeting personal heros from Errin Haines to Jen Psaki, I finally allowed myself to consider the possibility that maybe there was a place for me in the world of politics. Politics had always been a passion of mine, but I had never entertained it as my professional path. When inspiring women lead by example and reassure you that anything is possible, you start to believe it.
With no previous experience in the political world to claim, I was ready to try. I joined the John King for Governor campaign and started working for one of the most notable figures in the field of education.
King’s accolades span from serving as a teacher and principal in Maryland schools to serving as the secretary of education under President Barack Obama. In just three generations, his family has gone from being enslaved in Gaithersburg, Md., to being appointed to the cabinet of the first Black president of the United States.
As undeniably impressive as his accomplishments are, what really hooked me was King’s personal story. In June, I lost my stepfather unexpectedly to the cruel disease of Alzheimer’s. In an excruciating time of personal grief, I learned King had lost both his parents at a young age and his father specifically to undiagnosed Alzheimer’s. I have never been one to subscribe to the idyllic “everything happens for a reason” notion, but I somehow knew I was in the right place.
Work never feels like work when your boss exudes an unparalleled dedication to public service. I am now working full time as a political associate for King’s campaign, and like a glove, my role just seems to fit. I am grateful to be a small part of ensuring that the best candidate for governor of Maryland is elected, and I know he will institute statewide, systemic change for students.
So to anyone reading this who thinks it’s too late to start over or is told they aren’t qualified to pursue their passion: bet on yourself. I promise it will be worth it.
Hannah Spengler is a graduate of the McCourt School of Public Policy.