From Jesuit Student to One Heartbeat Away from the Presidency


Alexander Landowski ’19

One morning earlier this semester, my mother picked me up from school, and we headed for downtown Houston to attend a Tim Kaine rally. Realizing that this might be my only opportunity to experience the American political system during this presidential election year, we set out on this adventure. My interest in seeing Tim Kaine had everything to do with the fact that I attend Strake Jesuit College Preparatory School.

It was an astounding moment as I was watching the Democratic National Convention on television in July. The Vice Presidential candidate, Senator Tim Kaine, whom I could barely identify before then, was speaking and revealing to the viewing public his personal biography.  He spoke of his middle class upbringing in the Kansas City, Missouri area and how his parents had earned a living. Then, he went on to talk of the Jesuit high school he graduated from, Rockhurst High School. Instantly, my ears perked up, as I heard him speak proudly the words I hear every day, “Men For Others.” He credited the Jesuit priests with inspiring him to live the life he currently leads. Hearing our SJ motto broadcast over the airwaves was a real surprise to me. So, it was on that day in July that I set out to interview the senator if he ever came to Houston on the campaign trail.

In my research about the Senator’s life, I discovered that not only did he have a Jesuit high school education, but he also took one year off from Harvard Law School in 1980 to participate in a Jesuit mission in Honduras for nine months. He ran a vocational school that taught carpentry and welding. He saw up close what is was like to live under a harsh dictatorship and contend with crippling poverty. While there he taught himself Spanish, which he still speaks fluently. In fact, he is known on the campaign trail for being the first candidate in history to give a speech entirely in Spanish. He has said, “Being a missionary taught me how to live Christ’s declaration that we find ourselves only by losing ourselves. They say that nobody comes back from serving a mission the same person, and that was certainly true of me. My time in Honduras became my North Star, a crucible of my values.”

Once my mom and I had arrived at the rally, I set out to get the interview with the man of the hour. That was easier said than done. We first located some of his national staffers traveling with him, who directed us to the press corps coordinator. I introduced myself to her and explained where I attended school here in Houston, and then asked if I could get a brief interview with Senator Kaine. My angle, and hopefully hook, into meeting him, was the Jesuit school reference and connection. She recorded all of my personal information and sent it off to the Senator’s headquarters via email. She jotted down my cell phone number and said if it was going to be possible to meet him she would call me. My mom and I took our places among the fans and faithful to wait for Senator Kaine to arrive. We watched 4th graders say the Pledge of Allegiance, elderly military men bring in the colors, and listened to patriotic music being blasted from temporary speakers. We were even given campaign signs to hold up.

Next, we heard from a Houston City Council member, a Texas State Representative, and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. When she introduced the Vice Presidential nominee, the crowd went wild, as the saying goes.

Soon after he began his 30 minute speech, my phone rang. Not recognizing the incoming number, I answered it anyway to find the press corps coordinator calling me with news. She told us to meet her in another area of the room. We located her, and she informed me I would not be able to interview Senator Kaine. She did, however, move us to the front row of the VIP section and told us that after his speech concluded, I would possibly be able to get a photo with him when he goes through the “rope line.” The rope line is the first row of an audience where a candidate typically shakes hands and takes selfies after a speech.

During his speech he proclaimed that he had never lost a campaign. In fact he is 8-0. They include races for school board, city council, Mayor of Richmond, Virginia, Virginia Lieutenant Governor, the Governor of Virginia, and now U.S. Senator. He is not planning on losing this current race either, he emphasized. He went on to admit his victories were not landslides. “Matter of fact, you can make an entire living with only 51% of people liking you,” he explained.

Within 5 minutes my phone rang again, and the press corps coordinator was now telling us to go to the back of the room where we just came from. Meeting us again, she proceeded to tell me I could meet Senator Kaine and ask him one question backstage after he finished speaking. When the realization hit me that I was about to meet the man who might become the next Vice President of the United States, I immediately started to feel nervous about my question.

After he finished his speech, we were whisked backstage.  While waiting, a couple of his aides came to talk to us. They made me feel very comfortable and one of the aides informed us, “Senator Kaine loves talking about his time with the Jesuits.” It seemed like an eternity, but the next thing I remember he walked through a curtain and came directly over to me. With him was his campaign photographer and a videographer, all part of his entourage.

I introduced myself to him and told him I was a Sophomore at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory. He replied, “I know about Strake.” He greeted my mom also, and we were struck by how cordial and kind he was. Not wanting to take any more of his time, I asked him how his Jesuit education prepared him for a life as a public servant. He answered, “Following the motto of being a man for others, provides you with the most important element of being a public servant. Taking a selfless approach allows one to do the most good for the public.”  We concluded with taking a few photos together. I thanked him for his time, and in a split second, the moment was over. His motorcade sped off to his campaign jet awaiting to take him to his next stop of the day in Austin.

Within an hour of the rally’s conclusion, I was back in a classroom here at SJ. As I tried to focus on the words coming out of my teacher’s mouth I couldn’t help but focus on that memorable experience that had just happened. It still seems surreal to me that I met a man who could one day be one heartbeat away from the presidency.