At the Society of Skeptics on September 26, Blair's own Gina Trish was joined by New Jersey State Assembly running mate Kate Matteson and fellow Blair Buc and New Jersey State Assemblyman Dr. Timothy J. Eustace DC '74 to share with the Blair community their experiences with civic engagement and running for political office. Their presentation, which took place in the Chiang Center for Innovation and Collaboration, focused on why they respectively chose to run for office, why they felt they could have the most impact in the state legislature and why civic engagement is so vitally important in today's politically divided world.
Civic-Minded & Engaged Candidates
Mrs. Trish is no stranger to Blair students—they know her as the School's Leadership Stories Project coordinator who films their narratives about challenges and choices they have made while staying true to their values. Having heard so many students' stories over the years, Mrs. Trish was excited to have the opportunity to share her own beliefs with students and explain why she felt compelled to run for office in an effort to make a difference in the lives of her students, colleagues and neighbors.
"It is really important to identify what is important to you in life and stand up for what you believe in," said Mrs. Trish, an adjunct faculty member at Centenary College whose interest in public service led her to log many hours as a campaign volunteer over the years and run for Blairstown Council in 2012. "Running for office—whether on the student-council, state or congressional level—is an experience that makes you a civically minded person who wants to be part of the solution rather than complaining about the decisions others are making on your behalf. As a political candidate, you can no longer be a critic; you are a change agent."
Local Roots & Community Pride
As New Jersey natives, both Mrs. Trish and Mrs. Matteson have deep local roots and take great pride in their efforts to positively influence their local communities and hometowns. "I realized it was time for me as a woman, a mother and a member of our community to step up and be an example of the change I want to see in our society," said Mrs. Matteson. "It became clear that the perfect forum to do that is right here in my own backyard. There is so much we can do to encourage prosperity in northwest New Jersey that I felt the time was right to get involved."
At Skeptics, the running mates spoke about the highlights of their campaign—receiving the endorsement of their party, winning the primary, helping to organize the first pride parade in Sussex County, meeting government officials, and participating in campaign events, phone banks, team runs and fundraisers. They touched on the importance of the business of legislating and taking pride in the place in which you live, as well as how much young people can do in the political sphere, regardless of age or political experience.
Dr. Eustace, who is chair of the Assembly's Environment and Solid Waste Committee, was on hand to answer questions from the audience. He is in his third term and currently running for his fourth and, prior to the Assembly, Dr. Eustace was the mayor of Maywood in Bergen County.
Getting Involved & Being an Example for Others
"Most of all, we wanted students to leave our talk knowing that they must not be deterred by people who don't believe in them," said Mrs. Trish. "Especially as a female candidate who has never held office, I will have to respond to critics who say I may not be qualified for state assembly, when that simply isn't true. I hope Blair students realize that serving in a political office is something anyone can do well if they work hard, stand up for what they believe in and want to be on the right side of history."
"It is important that we encourage young people to understand that they can make a difference by getting involved in a cause they are passionate about," added Mrs. Matteson. "Gina and I realized that the best thing we could do to be examples for our own children was to show that getting deeply involved in civic engagement, though it can be daunting, is completely worth the effort. The satisfaction that comes from knowing you are taking the best actions you can to bring forth positive change is very rewarding."
The Skeptics Tradition at Blair
The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.
The program was an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon.'65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please click here.