Some time last year, as the political rhetoric on social media took a life of its own, I chose to step away from the drama and the dialogue and look for inspiration among the people living in the towns surrounding my hometown, Avon, Connecticut.
I was seeking to hear stories and potentially photograph individualsespecially those who hadn’t graduated from high school yet. As I reached out to parents in a private Facebook forum, I heard one name come up again and again: Taylor Armstrong.
She kicks off what I hope will be an occasional feature here on this blog called Doing Good Works.
I am seeking to hear from parents whose children are doing extraordinary and positive things in their community and for their community. Please use the contact form or call me directly at 860-593-0850.
Now, on to learning about Taylor Armstrong!
1) Give us a quick introduction. Who is Taylor Armstrong? (How would you describe yourself?)
I am a high school senior, anxiously awaiting news on where I will spend my next years of schooling (it’s Bucknell University, by the way). I am a dedicated daughter and older sister. A loyal, funny friend, lover of chicken nuggets, political junkie and a hardworking student who has always been known as ‘a pleasure to have in class’.
2) You have shown an early interest in politics. How and where were you inspired first to get involved in local campaigns? Who motivated you?
Being politically aware is something I’ve grown up learning to be. My parents have always spoken to us about current events and politics. I became very interested during the 2016 presidential election. I was in awe on how divided our country was becoming and how truly each side believed in ‘their’ candidate. This interest stuck with me and after spending some time in DC summer before junior year, I decided this new passion is something I wanted to pursue. I made the decision then to either be the story or to tell the story. I first became involved in with school and was elected as VP on the Young Democrats Club and quickly, I became involved in local, state, and federal campaigns. When our school dissolved its political clubs, I worked with the administration to create a bipartisan club where students with different viewpoints could debate and learn from on another. I’m motivated by people of outstanding character who are involved in our government at any level because they want to make a situation better for all. Those who truly listen and are dedicated to work towards viable solutions that help communities grow together. Those who are willing to go out of their comfort zone are ones who motivate me.
3) Despite a full stack of classes and after-school activities at Northwest Catholic High School you still make time for your community. Why is that important to you?
“For it is in giving that we receive”
This famous quote from St. Francis of Assisi sums up my view on making time for my community. Below is an essay I wrote while reflecting on my service:
May 7, 2010. I was eight and my sister was five. It was Friday pizza night and our lives changed forever. In the best way they knew how, my parents spoke to us about a new path that was created for our family. My mother, at thirty-six, had been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. My only concerns up to this point were finishing the Ivy & Bean book series, recess and turning nine at the end of the month because that meant only one more year until I could get my ears pierced. I still recall sitting as still as I have ever sat. Frozen. I knew that my parents, who were always predictably happy, were speaking in a different tone. Mom related everything would be okay. I knew little of the word cancer, yet, I knew enough to know she was forcing that reassurance. Lauren, my kindergarten sister, jumped up and gave her a hug while saying “I love you”. I stared her down and asked if she would die, petrified to hear a truthful answer.
The next months were a blur. Mom insisted on being treated locally, insuring she would be home for us. The school year ended and camp season started almost immediately. Mom needed rest and her chemo regimen was taking a toll. Yet, even through her weakest moments, she was there for us, trying to keep daily life as normal as possible. Teaching us lessons every step of the way.
I had always been a really picky eater and while never wanting to be a short order cook, mom would often indulge my requests. Then, she sat me down and discussed the need for me to expand my palate. She was exhausted and although still catering to us, she could not be a caterer! We were so fortunate that mom was beloved by so many. Meal trains were set up for months. Daily, complete meals were brought to us from friends and strangers alike. Some included flowers or small gifts, almost all had notes of encouragement. I knew my mom was special. I loved learning how everyone else in town thought so too. That summer flew by and in the years since, my mom has stayed stable by the grace of continued chemotherapy. Metastatic disease is merciless. I knew others could be helped as our family had been. I knew I could make a difference, and I knew it could be through food.
At almost ten, I was still not yet old enough to work, but I was allowed to volunteer at our church. There is a sandwich ministry that feeds the homeless everyday. Over the years, I would make thousands of sandwiches. Helping those in need as our family had been helped at our lowest time. While in the kitchen of the church, I am at peace. There is a feeling of content that comes along with doing for others and feeding their body and soul.
Then, at fourteen I had a full circle moment. A new program opened in our area and I was old enough to volunteer at Healing Meals. All organic meals prepared, cooked and packaged by teens, under adult supervision, serving those in our area currently in a health crisis. Arriving early on Sunday mornings, I packed up the meals for the delivery angels to bring to those who needed nourishment for the week. I was learning how proper sustenance is vital to healing.
It has been over eight years my mother is still receiving intravenous treatment every three weeks while also taking daily medication. She continues to be scanned every few months and the level of anxiety for all of us has yet to reach ‘normal’. Her cancer is incurable and she is defying odds and setting examples everyday. I still am a volunteer at the Healing Meals Community Project. Lauren is too. Never forgetting that without the generosity of others, our family story may be very different. Most people would never welcome cancer as a gift and I am among that list, yet the lessons learned when truly faced with misfortune are ones that have set me on my path of growth, compassion and understanding and for that, I am grateful.
Among all the gifts my parents have given me, a strong ethic and empathy are among the at the top of the list. Being involved to help others who are less fortunate, or whom may just need a helping hand, is what has been modeled for us. I am a true believer in starting at home too. Whether it be through my parish, or local farms, building a stronger local community offers the chance to take your strength and good fortune elsewhere.
Attending NWC and being active in my parish, has strengthened my faith and allow me to recognize my gifts with an opportunity to share them.
4) You were most recently involved in Eleni Kavros DeGraw’s campaign in Avon and Canton. You worked the phones and knocked on doors. What did that experience teach you? And, do you see yourself running for office after college?
Being an intern for Team Eleni and Senator Chris Murphy was an amazing and unforgettable experience. I made countless phone calls and knocked on too many doors to count. I learned there are people who are willing to listen, ones who ask questions and many who are set in their ways. Those who are happy with the current political climate in our state and nation as a whole, and many whom are not. I learned that despite picking out my outfits and doing my best to look cute when I went canvassing, people didn’t care what I was wearing or what I looked like. They were interested in learning how and when my candidate would be making positive changes. They want growth. Both parties’ constituents wants stricter guns laws, improved education and a strong economy. At the end of the day, these voters are looking to improve Connecticut’s status in a nation we are all seeking to keep recognized as the best in the world.
The experience I gained this summer helped me to recognize the need for campaign volunteers. For a candidate know have faith that their campaign is filled with loyal staffers, fueled by their ideals, offers a sense of peace. Having reliable members spread the vision to voters is the best way to begin the movement toward change. I learned what works and what needs improvement. I learned how stressful campaigning is on the candidate and the toll running for office takes on an individual and their family. I learned that even when you do everything right and have the best message to share with detailed plan on how to make it come together, the votes do not always add up in your favor. I learned that losing the election stings, but you pick yourself up and keep moving forward because you know how much work still needs to be done.
I do not know exactly what my future holds. The next few weeks will set me on a path toward my collegiate and professional trajectory. Sometimes, I want to run for office, starting local and making my way towards federal influence. Other times, I think I want to manage campaigns through statistical analysis and at other times, I see myself on one of the 24 hour news networks reporting to viewers the latest political breaking news as a correspondent. What I do know is that I plan to work hard to achieve any of these scenarios. I am grateful for the opportunity my parents have given to me which will allow me to explore these options.
5) Who has inspired you and who are you mentoring and inspiring in return right now?
I am constantly inspired by different people everyday. Most days, I am inspired by the people in our world truly making a difference through public service. I am inspired by people like Eleni DeGraw who put herself out there to run for state congress and make positive changes to CT. I am inspired by newly elected Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, who despite all the negative happenings in her life and ‘strikes’ against her, had a belief and instinct that she was destine to make change and she is well on her way!
I think about those students who went to high school last February in Florida. The ones who had another day of instruction under their belt and just as they were ready to leave for after school activities when their lives were changed forever. When the gunman rushed through the hallways and classrooms of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School killing 17 students and faculty members, inspiring leaders rose from this day. I am inspired by the teens who decided that they were no longer going to have their tragedy be forgotten. They together formed a movement, and while promises have been made and not fulfilled, these students continue their fight. While their tragedy should have never happened, and certainly should have been the last, it has not been, proving there is more work to be done.
In the spirit of the March for Our Lives movement, I became in touch with administrators at NWC shortly after the Florida tragedy. As founder of the Future Leaders of America club at Northwest Catholic, I strongly felt there was a need to mobilize our students to make change. In an email to our President and Academic Dean, I asked for our school to implement a peer mentoring program. It was a tough junior year for me. I had been flying solo for about 6 weeks at the point of the shooting, after a falling out with friends. The Snapchats had stopped, the likes on Instagram were gone, and now that I finally had my license and some freedom, I had nowhere to go. I still am in the dark about what exactly went wrong, (and honestly, even today things still don’t make sense) but I knew what it felt like to be alone. I knew what it felt like to be isolated, alone and sad. Never to a point of despair, as I have an amazing support system, but I understood how quickly things can change for kids my age. You never hear that a ‘shooter’ was well adjusted, popular and involved. You always hear that there must be bullying issues, loneliness and everyone “knew he was a little off.”
My thought was to implement a program designed to help prevent students from becoming lonely. To create an inclusive community within our school where students always have another to identify with. Link Crew, a nationally recognized peer mentoring program was suggested. Together, we designated student leaders who welcomed incoming freshman to NWC and this new program. It is my hope that Link Crew continues to be a staple in the NWC community. Where freshman who have benefited will in turn want to become leaders as they are upperclassmen. Making sure there is no student left behind and that as a community, we care for one another recognizing when one of us needs assistance, we will be there.
It is through my own loneliness that I hope others can come together and be there as a friend when needed.
6) You are a staunch Democrat. What is it about their platform that appeals most to you?
It’s funny. I have been raised in a household where all my life, my parents have had opposing views to mine. Yet, as long as I can intelligently make an argument, and give substantial backing to my viewpoint, they allow me to pursue my beliefs. I believe most importantly in bipartisanship. It is clear to even someone my age that we as Americans are best served when we all work together. Yes, I consider myself a Democrat, but remember, I am not even old enough to vote! I align myself with the Democratic Party based on their value system. Wanting to help those who are in true need. Being there for our neighbors in a time of crisis. I believe fully in a person’s right to be granted equal opportunity, justice and fair treatment regardless of your sex, race, gender or ethnicity. I believe there is much work in both parties to be done to bring us as Americans to a place where we can work and move forward together. I hope to one day be a part of this movement.
7) Will you pursue the traditional route of political science as an undergraduate major and then law school before working on policy issues? What are your future plans?
I am interested in three areas of study: Political Science, Sociology and Business. Political Science and Sociology are the majors I intend to pursue, with a minor in Finance or Marketing. I believe this combination would best prepare me for a career as a political analyst, which is what I am interested right now. While at college, I plan on deciding if I am interested in attending law school after, which may help if I decided to pursue a career as a politician. Although, our current climate in American politics proves that a law degree is not necessarily a baseline requirement any longer. From the President to Congress members to local officials, people with different degrees of experience are relatable and electable.
I want to be invested in our country’s government, and learn how to make it better. I aspire to combine my love for politics and policy with a deeper understanding of how our society functions and can improve. Finally, I want to incorporate economic knowledge in offering communities new ideas.
8) You’ve emerged as a leader in our community. Why do you believe leading and leadership is an important facet of American life?
Thank you for recognizing me as a leader. To me, a true leader has a strong and moral character. Leaders are people who are reliable, have integrity, admit when they are wrong and always willing to learn. They have the strength to recognize their abilities and weaknesses. They know that without trying, they will never know if success can be achieved. I have always been encouraged by my immediate and extended family, my teachers and other important people in my life to keep pushing through difficult times and focus on my goals. I have encountered success and when I fall short, I have learned to pick myself up and try again.
It is important to know that in order for there to be leaders, there also need to be people willing to follow. I believe this is cyclical and crucial to the way our American society works. A true leader has a certain spark that engages the ‘followers’. The leader needs to be relatable and truthful. Hardworking and fair. They need to enlist the help and suggestions from the ‘followers’ and in turn give them the power to become leaders. The clearest example I can think of is our American education system. We have amazing teachers in this country who are the backbone of our nation. They are incredible leaders today who are teaching the leaders of tomorrow.
9) In the course of being actively involved in campaigns or programs at school, what has challenged you the most?
I am 17. So, honestly, time management is my biggest challenge. My mom keeps bugging me about getting better, saying she is so concerned about how I am going to make it to class on time in college! Because I am involved in many clubs, sports and out of school activities, I do not have much free time. I have two jobs and this year, as a senior, I do not even have one free period during the day. I stay up late, finish my responsibilities and then the next morning after waking up, I sometimes fall asleep in the shower!
All joking aside, I have been challenged personally as I try to navigate my way through high school and into adulthood. Recognizing that the independence I have been craving for so long is quickly becoming mine and I need to learn how to manage it and how to make the best of the opportunities I have.
10) If you have thought about it, what is your deepest hope for politics in America?
I wish there was a way to take big money out of politics. I understand its need to vitality to the process, but I believe there are many people who are qualified and not given the chance because they can not raise the money that others can. I also would like to see a limit on campaign seasons. We as Americans elect politicians to do a job, and it seems like not even half way through a term, they become more concerned with their next election and position than working for the one they currently have.
So, I would say my hope for politics in America is for fairness. At first, I was going to say unity, and while I do think unity needs to be sought after, I believe that what makes us American is our ability to disagree. We were given the right to voice and hold our own opinions, to express them and to live them. So, I wish for unity in the sense that as Americans we do what is right and just and we treat people fairly and equally.