Lenoir City High School graduate Dawson Hope’s love for public service stretches over many years.
He recalled a time going on a field trip as an eighth-grader to Washington, D.C., when his interest blossomed.
“I tell the story that while I was there we were touring the Capitol building and we were going from one end of it to the other and I can remember literally bumping into some gentleman in a black coat and I vaguely remembered his face and when we got back to the hotel, I looked him up (thinking) maybe I had bumped into somebody famous,” Hope said. “Well, I did. It was the Speaker of the House John Boehner, and he wasn’t mad, he just waved and that was it.
“I just think there’s so much value in a citizen government like we have that our forefathers died for, and I think for anyone to say, ‘That doesn’t interest me. Civil engagement doesn’t strike a chord within me,’ that’s troubling,” he added.
Hope said relatives and teachers tried pushing him into math and engineering because “that’s where the jobs are,” but he wanted to be involved in public service because that’s “where my heart’s at.”
“Having been exposed to the cities of Washington, D.C., to New York, all of these cities, for me it’s given — and I said this on the House floor during my campaign speech — that sitting out there with all those people was so much being able to stand in front of them because I looked out and I saw a mosaic of different perspectives,” Hope said. “It wasn’t just one color on this side, one color on that side, it was people that actually came together and had a conversation. That’s something I wish our state and federal government would do more of.”
Hope graduated from LCHS in 2017 and is now a junior at Maryville College, where his love for politics remains strong. He is secretary of state for the Tennessee Intercollegiate Student Legislature, which meets in Nashville at the state capitol.
TISL, which was established in 1966, allows students the opportunity to “exchange ideas, express their opinions and learn how government works,” according to its website. College students meet in the legislative chambers each November for four days. TISL’s four programs pattern after elements of public service, including legislative, the Appellate Moot Court Collegiate Challenge, lobbying and media.
“It’s a great experience in the nuts and bolts of how law and politics works,” Aaron Astor, Maryville College professor of history, said in a release. “You’re literally in the chamber where the stuff happens, and I think it gives the students an appreciation for the process.”
Astor advises and accompanies the college delegation.
This will mark Hope’s third year with TISL. He first started as a senator representative for Maryville College, and last year became a deputy, helping then-TISL secretary of state Julia Williams.
Over the four-day period, Hope assisted with 172 bills. Not all were assigned to committees, but Hope and Williams processed them.
“We had a lot of sore feet,” he said.
In his new role, Hope believes he’s ready for the task.
“The deputy generally, often they are in on and what I was in on was minute little plans, and once the four days got there it was getting used to that schedule and trying to assume a senior position even though you technically weren’t,” he said. “But now being secretary of state it’s a lot bigger, and the responsibilities are larger, and they’re sitting on my shoulders right now.”
He plans to be back in Nashville many times before November, including in April when TISL will have a Day on the Hill for students.
“We’re trying to invite as many participating colleges and their delegations to come as they can, because we have a mock legislative session, a preview of what the four days will be like,” Hope said. “Hopefully we’ll have a meet and greet with some legislators and they can come out and interact with us, maybe have a panel experience with some questions.”
His goals for 2020 include getting more students involved in work of the secretary of state and making TISL’s 51st General Assembly operate smoothly.
And he is eyeing public service at the local or state level once he graduates.
“I think maybe our biggest issues that we face, if we could fix them at the local level and let it bleed up rather than trickle down from Washington, D.C., down to the county,” Hope said.