Cory Booker (virtually) sits down with the Biden Institute
“What would you do if you could not fail?”
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker’s mother asked him this question when he was a fresh graduate out of Stanford University, where he had been a member of the football team as well as senior class president. Sen. Booker responded by saying he didn’t know; all he knew was that he wanted to help people.
Booker proceeded on the route that he thought would best lead him to his goal and ended up far exceeding his initial expectations.
Booker detailed his experiences spanning the length of his career: from being a Rhodes scholar, to studying at Yale Law School, to getting elected mayor of Newark and eventually senator of New Jersey.
Booker shared all of his experience in the political field during a workshop hosted by the Biden Institute entitled “Careers on Capitol Hill” on the evening of Thursday, May 7. This workshop also featured Subhan Cheema, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal’s communications director and Kelsey Daniels, Sen. Christopher Coons’ economic legislative aide.
Booker was not just there to dole out career advice and networking tips; he also cracked several jokes. At one point, Perry Spiegel, events manager for the Biden Institute, asked Booker a question, and Booker responded with a comment about Spiegel’s name.
“You know Perry, I have to admit that I frequently watch a show that has a Perry on it, but he’s a platypus,” Booker said.
Booker went on to chuckle and poll the audience about if they were “Team Phineas” or “Team Ferb.” Booker quipped several self-described “dad jokes” at the audience throughout his conversation with the Biden Institute’s Vice Chair, Valerie Biden Owens, and Executive Director, Cathy McLaughlin.
Booker said that since he worked very closely with Valerie Biden Owens, Joe Biden’s sister and campaign manager, he had a lot to share with her. Booker referred to Biden Owens as “the best of the Bidens.”
“And you can tell Joe that I said that!” Booker said.
Booker answered the questions of several students aspiring to work jobs in public policy and on Capitol Hill. He shared an anecdote about visiting a school classroom and asking the students what they wanted to do later in life.
One boy quickly turned to him and said, “I want to be president of the United States.” Booker then asked the next student the same question, who said, “I don’t really know, but I know that something needs to be done to help the inequities and disparities children across the country face.”
When comparing those two answers, Booker believed that the second student’s conviction and passion would take him a lot further than the first student.
Booker shared some advice with the attendees of the “Careers on Capitol Hill” workshop.
“People who aim for positions and offices without purpose will not make it; never forget your purpose,” Booker said.
This mantra is what drove Booker through his most trying times while in office. Booker touched upon the hurdles he faces as one of only three African-Americans serving in the Senate in response to a student’s question about how he dealt with such a lack of diversity.
To counter such difficulties, Sen. Booker spearheaded an initiative with Sen. Chuck Schumer that made senators post diversity percentages reflecting the demographics of their states compared to their staff, which started to hold senators accountable for accurately reflecting the diversity of their constituents.
“When you go boldly, you’re gonna make mistakes, you’re gonna fall flat on your face,” Booker said. “But when you face the darkness, that’s where you find your courage.”
Booker shared the mantra that has gotten him through life.
“Your failures can become your greatest gifts that God gave you,” Booker said.
He urged all of the students at the workshop to keep the same advice in mind when faced with hardship.
A student asked about some of the most important traits one must have to succeed in a career on Capitol Hill. Booker emphasized a strong work ethic and the determination to never give up.
“I may just be a junior senator from New Jersey, but I’m gonna work as hard as anybody in that place to get things done,” Booker said.
Near the end of the call, Booker chose to leave all of the workshop attendees with one parting message of advice and hope.
“How can I be an agent of love in a world that really needs it?” Booker implored all of the students to ask themselves. “At the end of the day, it’s not about the biggest speech or piece of legislation. The biggest thing you can do everyday is a small act of kindness, decency and love.”