Friday, March 4, Senator Tim Kaine visited the College of William and Mary’s Global Research Institute to speak with a group of undergraduate researchers and answer their questions. Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke about his career and answered questions ranging from US-China relations to domestic social unrest.
The visit is Kaine’s latest to the College since Sept. 1, 2020, when he talked to students over Zoom and met with College President Katherine Rowe.
“There’s this center of excellence at William and Mary,” Kaine said during the press pool after the event.
“I could go to UVA and talk to foreign relations students, I could go to any college and do that, but there’s a center of excellence here in these global labs where it’s not just about studying, but it actually is, as Mike said, about the creation of knowledge and the creation of usable data that can help us make policy,” Kaine said, referring to Director of the GRI and George and Mary Hylton Professor of International Relations Michael Tierney.
Kaine discussed his background before answering questions from students. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Kaine wrote to Jesuit missionaries he knew from attending a Jesuit high school to find volunteer work.
“I grew up in the Midwest and went to Mizzou and raced through in three years and went right to Harvard Law School, and when I was there, I was the youngest person in my class of about 550 because most people take time off before they start law school and they have done interesting things,” Kaine said. “And I got in with this group of people and I really liked it, but it made me ask, ‘why am I rushing? Why am I rushing? And do I even know what I want to do with my life?’ And the answer to that was no.”
Kaine found volunteer work with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras in 1980. Kaine’s year in Honduras was tumultuous, as the country was ruled by a military dictatorship and some of the people he knew were killed by the military. Despite these hardships, the Spanish fluency he gained during his time in Honduras has been a significant resource he has often used, especially when talking to leaders in Central and South America as chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee.
In Honduras, Kaine also learned about the nature of authoritarian impulses and spoke briefly about how he sees echoes of it in the modern era.
“It was a very tumultuous time, and I learned some powerful lessons, but I will say I was somewhat naive because I was assuming that this dictatorial authoritarian impulse, it’s not going to be an issue in the United States,” Kaine said. “But we are really living in a struggle between a small ‘d’ democratic impulse and an authoritarian impulse.”
Government major Junie Park ’25 told Kaine that he has noticed some college students losing faith in the American experiment, either as a result of increasing political polarization, racial conflict, gridlock in Washington, D.C. or otherwise.
“How would you persuade a rapidly disillusioning and cynical generation into believing in our form of governance?” Park said.
Kaine responded by informing Park that there are more instances of bipartisanship occurring than what is broadcast in the news. He also affirmed his trust in young people to help bring the United States out of today’s “tailspin.” Kaine then described his life as a child in the ’60s, referencing the tumultuous nature of this historical period.
“I came home at age five. My mother was crying in front of the TV because John F. Kennedy had been killed. We’re an Irish Catholic family, I mean, I’d never seen my mother cry before, and it was so traumatic,” Kaine said. “Bobby Kennedy was killed. Martin Luther King was killed. The Vietnam War was going on. Vietnam War protests, civil rights protests. You turn on the news, you see people your age getting hosed down. And you know, because they were civil rights protesters, a president who had to resign because he was saying get impeached. This was my life between five and 14. And it seemed so tumultuous and turbulent.”
Kaine continued by addressing the range of cynicism and skepticism of young people in the ‘60s, especially in reference to the notion of the American dream.
“I think a lot of young people were facing a similar sense of cynicism and skepticism about, ‘Is the American experiment or dream worthwhile?’” Kaine said. “But then, what I noticed is that young people really got engaged and involved. They were the ones that protested against the Vietnam War. They were the ones that pushed for the 26th Amendment that dropped the voting age from 21 to 18. They were the ones doing the civil rights protests. And when young people got involved, things got better.”
Students continued to ask Kaine questions on topics ranging from truth commissions to sanctions on Iran. Kaine told the press pool after the event how impressed he was with the students in attendance.
“When I talk to the students here, it’s not like they’re in a class and they’re asking about the reading from last week, they’re more sharing either of the results of their own research or asking questions that are rooted in the projects that they’re working on, so that’s why doing this at William and Mary is particularly fun for me,” Kaine said.
He recognized the sense of professionalism exuded by attendants, particularly in reference to the questions that were asked during the event.
“This is more like me talking to staffers than me talking to a class,” Kaine said. “It tells me that some percentage of them, when they finish here at William and Mary, they’re going to be doing this work and they are going to be staffers on the Hill, they’re going to be working at the State Department or USAID, they’re going to be working at NGOs like the World Food Programme or others where we want to we want to invest, but we want to invest the right way, in ways that will really make a difference in people’s lives. And that’s the kind of ethos under which these William and Mary students are trained from day one.”