In 1973, I entered a writing contest sponsored by the Republican party of Connecticut. A committee of my high school’s social studies teachers judged the essays; the theme we had to address in our essays was “The Proper Role of Government.” The prize? A week-long internship in Washington, D.C., interning with our Republican congressmen and Senator Lowell Weicker, also a member of the Republican party. Around 40 students from across the state would attend; only one student from my high school could be the winner. To my surprise and delight, I was selected.
I don’t remember a thing about what I wrote, but I do remember the excitement of traveling by bus to Washington, D.C., where we lived in a college dormitory and spent our days attending hearings, watching the action in the House and the Senate, and working in Weicker’s office, sorting his mail by subject and helping his aides reply to the stacks of letters that he received each and every day.
We also spent time meeting and greeting Republican lawmakers from around the country. After all, the Grand Old Party had financed the trip; my local paper reported that the Republican Town Committee had raised the $150 to pay for my scholarship. Quite the splurge!
Based on the party affiliation of our hosts, we didn’t expect to meet anyone from across the aisle. Yet one afternoon we were seated in a small room when a young Senator and his entourage came to meet us. He was handsome, witty, and young, and a trail of young aides smiled adoringly as he connected with us, listening to us with care, answering our questions and describing his new job. He had only been in the Senate for a few months, but he seemed comfortable and confident in his new role.
More than 45 years later, my memories of meeting Joe Biden on that July afternoon are still vibrant. During the whole week, he was the only Democrat that we had the opportunity to meet and interview. We were impressed by his sincerity, empathy and charm. I’m guessing his fellow senators thought he would be a great example of how to be a good senator, and a fine man.
Today, as I listened to President Biden deliver his inaugural address, I was again reminded of that long-ago summer day. Biden has a lot less hair and a lot more wrinkles, but his concern for others seems just as genuine as it did in 1973. He crossed the aisle more than 40 years ago to listen with respect to others’ opinions and needs, and I believe he will continue to do so as our new president.
Peggy Dills Kelter lives in Hood River.