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Bradley's Brad McMillan shares his thoughts from Washington, D.C., this week while attending various swearing-in events as Aaron Schock '02 takes office as the youngest member in the 111th Congress. Schock follows Bob Michel '48 HON '81 and Ray LaHood '71 when he fills the 18th Congressional District seat. LaHood has been nominated by President-elect Barack Obama as his Secretary of Transportation.
McMillan is executive director of the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley.
The Library of Congress is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution and serves as the research arm of Congress. It is the largest library in the world and is also one of the most beautiful and stunning public buildings in all of America.
Our group met in the glorious Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building, which rises 75 feet from its marble floor to its stained glass ceiling. More than 50 American sculptors, painters, and mosaic artists contributed their talents to this breathtaking building. After taking a tour, the group headed to the reception in the ornate hallway outside of the Members Room where we would dine.
Waiters walked around with wine and hors d’oeurves as the spirits of the group rose to an even higher level. We were joined by Bob Michel ’48, HON ’81, Ray LaHood ’71, Congressman John Shimkus and too many dignitaries to mention.
Library of Congress - Members of Congress Room
After the reception, we entered the elegant Members of Congress Room for a dining experience I will never forget. The Members Room is one of my favorite places in all of Washington, D.C. It features 11-foot walls of oak paneling, wood carving in the arches over the doors, a beamed ceiling with paintings in the ceiling panels, fireplace mantels of Italian marble and mosaics over the mantels.
We all found our seated places. From my seat and through the eight-foot windows, I could see the U.S. Capitol building lit up at night. Truly inspiring.
Aaron welcomed everyone. He spoke of the incredible history of the 18th Congressional District...from Abraham Lincoln, to Everett Dirksen, to Bob Michel and Ray LaHood. He acknowledged how the responsibility of representing this legacy with integrity weighed heavy on him. He thanked Bob Michel for joining him on the House Floor for his swearing in and then asked Bob to say a few words.
To enthusiastic applause, Bob came up to the podium. With deep emotion Bob said that the "experiences of the day and evening brought exuberance to my heart...Over 50 years ago I took my first oath as a new member of Congress."
He then joked that he holds the record on the opening day of Congress for losing the most elections for Speaker of the House (7 times!). Bob was the longest-standing Minority Leader in the U.S. House, serving for 14 years with great distinction.
Bob spoke of his strong conversations with Ray LaHood, where he pleaded with him to stay in Congress. He is now thrilled that Ray will not be leaving D.C. after all; Ray is returning to serve in the Cabinet as the Secretary of Transportation.
Bob then spoke of the great qualities he sees in Aaron Schock, including the ability to work well with others across party lines to get things done, and Aaron's obvious ability to connect with people. "Shoot, Ray and I never had so many folks from central Illinois come out for our swearing ins." With tears beginning to form in his 85-year-old eyes, a man who was in the front seat of history with nine Presidents, Bob closed by saying "This is the culmination of so many good things in my life." Bob wished Aaron God's blessings in his new role and headed to his seat as the audience gave him a long and so well-deserved standing ovation.
Aaron then introduced Ray LaHood and thanked him for all of his support in the general election. Aaron praised Ray for doing an outstanding job representing the 18th District and laying the groundwork for his 59% victory in November. Aaron also commented that it will be great having Ray as Secretary of Transportation because Ray knows the infrastructure needs of the 18th District better than he does. As he headed to the podium, Ray LaHood received another enthusiastic standing ovation.
Ray then thanked Aaron for respecting his elders and giving him and Bob a chance to speak. Ray said that Aaron Schock is a very smart, hard working young man who will do great things for the 18th District and our country. Ray thanked Aaron's parents and family for helping to raise such an outstanding man to help lead our future. Ray then asked the audience to put aside their partisan leanings and pray for President-elect Obama to be successful, saying, "If he succeeds, America succeeds."
Ray then pointed to the U.S. Capitol building, illuminated through the windows, and said, "The Capitol is the beacon for freedom, hope and opportunity, and our democracy is the best in the world. Aaron Schock has great potential, and I predict he will become one of the brightest stars in the freshman class of the 111th Congress."
Ray closed by advising Aaron to always remember where he came from and the people who brought him to Washington, D.C.
Aaron then closed the program asking for our prayers and asking us to keep him humble. "The country faces big challenges, and the responsibility is great....I will try my best to find common-ground solutions for the people I represent."
We then dined, had a few more glasses of wine, and basked in the history of the evening. As the dinner ended, we learned that the Bradley Braves had defeated their I-74 rivals, Illinois State. It was the perfect ending to an evening that I will always remember. Our democracy works, and we are blessed with the rich legacy of principled leadership that has come out of central Illinois, and YES Bradley University. Fifty-two years and still counting....
The Central Illinois group jumped on two small buses around 5 p.m. to head to the U.S. Capitol. Upon arriving, we were taken by Schock's new staff to the underground tunnels of the Cannon House Office building where we met up with the 18th District's new Congressman. I warmly greeted him. He was beaming and obviously filled with the joy and excitement of the day.
Aaron then led us through pathways underneath the Capitol and up a narrow, curving staircase to outside the House Chambers. Even though I had spent years traversing the underground bowels of Congress, first as Congressman's Michel's college intern and finally as Congressman LaHood's District Chief of Staff, I had never found this secret passageway. It was clear that Aaron was finding his way quite well in our nation's capital.
Outside the House Chambers, a camera crew was set up to tape a Hardball segment with Chris Matthews. The other guest waiting to be interviewed was Alaska’s new Senator, Mark Begich. Aaron handled this national media encounter like a seasoned professional.
We then waited in Statuary Hall for the photo opportunity with Speaker Pelosi. Other new members of Congress waited with their small groups of ten to 15 friends and family. Aaron waited with 100 family, friends, and staff. Aaron patiently allowed everyone to take individual pictures with him, smiling and sharing light-hearted conversation and compliments with everyone.
It struck me that Aaron was not your normal, everyday new member of Congress....but something much more special. Whether dealing with the national media or speaking one-on-one with supporters, he has superb, natural instincts and connects immediately with those who cross his path.
Our group was broken into three so that everyone could fit in a picture with Aaron and Speaker Pelosi. Aaron and Pelosi each raised their right hands, and Aaron put his left hand on the Bible. All of us stood proudly behind. Everyone smiled, the pictures were taken, and the formal process of becoming a new member of Congress was completed. Now onto the celebration....
I started off my morning by reading the USA Today which was left outside my hotel room. Inside was a story about the new 111th Congress being sworn in today and a great picture of Ray LaHood '71 and Aaron Schock '02 sitting on a bench chatting. Today is the day that the official congressional baton is handed off.
I then turned on my T.V. and The Early Show on CBS had a great feature story about Aaron, age 27, being sworn in as the youngest member of Congress. The story went through Aaron's journey in politics. At 19, Aaron waged a write-in campaign against the incumbent Peoria School Board President. He knocked on 13,000 doors and won with 60%. At age 22, Aaron ran against a 10-year incumbent State Legislator and won.
The CBS commentator said that due to his youthful looks, Aaron might be mistaken for a congressional aide rather than a member of Congress. Aaron responded that even though he will be the first member of Congress born in the 1980's, he will bring a much-needed perspective to members who are two to three times his age.
Over the past eight years I have been able to witness firsthand why Aaron Schock is so successful. He is extremely hard working, very, very smart (he graduated from Bradley University in two years with a finance degree), and he is articulate well beyond his years. I am confident that he will become a highly effective member of Congress.
So, today a new chapter begins. However, one important Bradley tradition continues. A Bradley University graduate will once again represent the 18th Congressional District in our nation's capitol: Bob Michel for 38 years, Ray LaHood for 14 years, and Aaron Schock...hopefully, for a long time. That's 52 years and still counting!
Now, I am off to the swearing-in watch party at the Billy Goat Tavern with 100-plus central Illinoisans who will watch Aaron take his oath of office.
My trip to D.C. for the swearing in of the 111th Congress started with a 6:10 a.m. United Airlines flight to Chicago. Fortunately, I sat next to Jesse Quick ’04, a manufacturing engineer, who now works for Caterpillar. Jesse was heading to Pittsburgh to help repair a $4.5 million piece of mining equipment for a customer who is deciding whether to purchase another piece of equipment. Jesse says the equipment is as "big as a building," and, with the current tough economic times, I am sure Caterpillar could use another $4.5 million sale. It is always great to meet young Bradley graduates doing important and meaningful work. I wished him well.
I arrived on time at 10:52 a.m. at the Washington, D.C., Reagan airport and took a cab to my hotel where I was able to check in early to my room....miracles still happen. In D.C., I was immediately struck by Obama mania. In the airport, life-size images of Obama were everywhere, and along the streets, Obama inauguration memorabilia was sold at every corner. It is simply hard to believe that this is the same freshman Illinois Senator who came to Peoria four years ago seeking advice from Congressman LaHood on congressional issues. Back then, I served as Congressman LaHood's District Chief of Staff, and the two men and our offices immediately struck a bipartisan friendship. Now, Ray LaHood ’71 is President-elect Obama's appointee to become the next Secretary of Transportation. All of this is a little overwhelming and surreal.
I then visited the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Transportation to check out where my former boss would be leading the charge. My tour guide was Robert DeHaan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy, who works closely with the current Secretary of Transportation. Bob is a Peoria native and longtime friend who graduated from Dunlap High School. His father, Byron, served as Public Affairs Director for Caterpillar. By the way, since Byron retired from Caterpillar, he has taken 200 hours of classes at Bradley just for the fun of it!
The new offices of the U.S. Department of Transportation are only blocks away from the Capital. The DOT building is home to 5,500 employees, while 66,000 DOT employees serve throughout the country. Ironically, Starbucks sits at the corner of this mammoth eight-story brick building....Congressman LaHood's all-time favorite place to grab coffee! A perfect fit for the new Secretary. Bob took me to the eighth floor to the "Secretary's mess" (executive dining room). Joining Bob and me for lunch were two other Peoria area guys working at the agency, Mark Haerr the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Management and Budget and David Kunz, Chief Counsel for Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Bob, Mark and David are all U of I graduates, but David was quick to point out that he is a Bradley alum since he took two hours at BU!
Bob, Mark and David are all very talented men who have served our country well in important roles. It is heartening to see good ol’ Peoria boys doing well in our nation's capitol. Since they are all political appointees and the Obama administration is coming to town, their immediate futures are up in the air.
Congressman LaHood's new offices overlook the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium. It is awesome to think of him serving in such a crucial Cabinet position in the Obama administration.
Tonight I attended Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin's reception with 700 guests. I thanked Senator Durbin for his strong support of Bradley University and important projects in central Illinois. As I was visiting with many friends at the reception, I noticed that Senator Durbin and his wife were waiting on a staircase with his grandchildren. From years of being actively involved in politics, I knew something was up. I moved towards the bottom of the staircase, and within five minutes, President-elect Barack Obama came through the doors. The crowd surged forward and gave him an enthusiastic ovation. He was like a rock star, as high-powered D.C. folks flocked around him. Although the crowd was crushing, within five minutes I was able to personally thank him for appointing Bradley's own Ray LaHood as Secretary of Transportation. Obama responded, "Ray's a great guy, and I was proud to do it." I was thrilled. I then called my wife and four children and told them of my special experience.
I also watched Obama hug Bill Houlihan, Senator Durbin's downstate director whom I have worked closely with over many years. It was an awesome sight! I met the new U.S. Senator from Virginia, Mark Warner, whom I respect a great deal. I visited with the nominated Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, who was greeted warmly by all of the guests. All in all, an AMAZING evening!!!!!