In April, Delegate Saira Blair of West Virginia came to speak to students in an open discussion about Appalachia and Millennials pursuing office. Delegate Blair is the Delegate representing the 59th district of the state of West Virginia. At age 17, Saira ran for the seat and defeated the two-term incumbent while still attending high school! She was elected at age 18, defeating her democratic opponent by over 30 points. In 2014, this made her the youngest elected official in the United States. To balance her school life and her public service, Saira defers her Spring semesters at West Virginia University and takes classes in the Summer and Fall sessions.
When she joined us on Harvard’s campus, students asked her about the struggles of pursuing politics as a millennial and as a woman. There was a great discussion about how young people don’t have to wait to get involved in public service, and the fact that they bring a unique skillset to the table among politicians that may be three times their age. Several audience members expressed an interest in running for office in the future, and Saira plans to be a resource for them or anyone else in her generation who wishes to pursue leadership. The feeling in the room was one of inspiration among peers, rather than an overt power dynamic between the speaker and the audience. As someone our age, she struck a chord with many students trying to find their way into public service.
Perhaps the most interesting points of the discussion came when the audience challenged Saira’s beliefs and views. It is no secret that Appalachian Conservatives are rare to come by in Cambridge. Students asked her why she viewed things the way she does, challenging what she calls her “uncompromising principles.” What ensued was an intellectual engagement across party lines, where both sides came out of the discussion more enlightened than when they entered. She brought a viewpoint to the table that may have never been heard on campus without her representation. The room had a convergence of Liberals and Conservatives, as well as rural and urban backgrounds. That is exactly what the Harvard Political Union strives to do.
By Tyler Jenkins, '19, Chair of Harvard Political Union