My latest South Shore Line adventure consisted of one of my favorite hobbies: attending lectures at the University of Chicago. It is amazing the type of speakers a university attracts with an endowment larger than nearly 50 national GDPs.

I have heard from multiple Nobel Prize laureates, politicians, cabinet members and economists over the past few years. Some events are open to the public and some are exclusive to UChicago students (I cannot tell you how many times I have coincidentally“forgotten” my ID card).

Most recently I went up to Hyde Park to listen to former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Julian Castro speak to a mix of professors and students about his time at HUD and his views on the future.

Castro first discussed the genesis of his political career. Citing his mom, a Chicana activist in San Antonio, as inspiration, Castro launched his public service profession immediately after graduating from Stanford Law School.

Shortly after winning a seat as the youngest member of the City Council of San Antonio at the age of 26, Castro decided to run for mayor. At the age of 35, after losing one mayoral race, Castro was elected and launched an ambitious expansion of Pre-K education in exchange for a city-wide sales tax.

Five years into his time as mayor, he was tapped by President Obama to serve as the youngest member of his cabinet running the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a product of President Johnson’s “Great Society.”

Serving as the 16th Secretary of HUD, Castro spoke of his accomplishments outlining ConnectHome, an effort to bring internet to children in public or assisted living; Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, a reinforcement of the Fair Housing Act which includes housing choice vouchers and community empowerment tools; and increasing funding to Choice Neighborhood initiatives.

Castro also described a part of HUD that is largely overlooked -- their work and efforts in impoverished rural areas throughout the country. He described working closely with the Department of Agriculture and his witness to extreme poverty on Native American reservations. Prompted by a question from New York Times correspondent and UChicago visiting fellow, Jackie Calmes, the young politician remained optimistic that much of his work will remain intact despite the change in administration because HUD is largely a non-partisan department remote from D.C. drama.

Castro also encouraged students to remain engaged with politics and public service. Stating that our generation is often criticized for our optimism and engagement, he feels there is a strong pursuit of justice within the identity of the millennials. Further, he discussed that despite a few “ethically-challenged” men and women in public service, politicians are mostly good from the local level all the way up to the Oval Office.

The Hispanic policymaker has been called the “Second Coming of Obama” and was heavily considered for the running mate of Hillary Clinton. He gained the spotlight after his keynote address at the 2012 Democratic Convention, and is viewed as the future of the Democratic Party. Now only 42 years old, Castro said he is open to holding public office again. He also stated that his twin, congressman Joaquin Castro, is heavily considering running against Senator Ted Cruz in 2018 in red-dominated Texas.

While heading up to Chicago for an evening to listen to distinguished speakers in a room full of “self-confident” students is fun, I will say that I have gained more benefit from attending lectures here at Valpo. Accomplished speakers are great, but they talk about themselves and lack a philosophical, “big picture” substance that the speakers at our school provide. I think this is largely due to a mix of our excellent faculty and my amazing peers. In short, save yourself the $14.50 round-trip train ticket and go to your professor’s office hours or attend a Christ College Symposium (cookies and hot cocoa included).  

The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch.

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