photo courtesy of MCT Campus
Just a few weeks after Shawnee Mission East football took on Rockhurst for the first time in decades, another group of men will be visiting the school for the first time in decades. On Oct. 14, former Rockhurst High School graduates will gather in the Barry Student Commons for their 40th reunion. Among those celebrating will be a law firm partner, a Commerce Bank executive, an East gifted teacher – and maybe even the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee.
Forty years ago, Senator Tim Kaine walked those same commons as Student Body President. Now, he is 270 electoral votes away from becoming the Vice President of the United States.
As the alumni reminisce about their high school days, they will undoubtedly reflect upon the lessons they learned at Rockhurst – the very same lessons that Sen. Kaine spoke about in his DNC acceptance speech.
“We had a motto in my school, ‘men for others,’” Sen. Kaine said in the speech. “And it was there that my faith became something vital. My North Star for orienting my life.”
Raised by Republican parents Kathy Burns and Albert Kaine in a historically Republican area, Sen. Kaine attributes his current liberal political beliefs to his Rockhurst education. The Jesuit institution stresses questioning, examination and mission work as the core of learning. However, his education taught him more than just calculus and government, but also about compassion and service. Throughout his whole career, this moral compass welded in Kansas City has stayed with him, from his nine-month-long mission trip in Honduras to the Governor’s Mansion and the Capitol.
Back in high school, Sen. Kaine’s classmates, including current East gifted teacher Alex Migliazzo, took note of how he was truly living up to the Jesuit school’s motto.
“[He was] very bright, very friendly, approachable and he was very involved in the mission program in high school as well,” Migliazzo said. “He was a nice guy who seemed to get along with everyone.”
According to the senator’s nephew, Curtis Kaine, this is still true today. Sen. Kaine’s family sees the reputation he earned at Rockhurst play out today in both his private and public life.
The boy who grew up a half mile from Franklin Park is the same politician who worked down the road from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Monument. The uncle cracking jokes at Thanksgiving dinner is the same candidate who imitated Donald Trump during the DNC. The Kansas City native who makes frequent stops at Arthur Bryant’s is the same Virginia Governor who spent an hour talking with a visiting Virginia family at the National World War I Museum.
“When I talk to him he is the same guy, this really nice guy who can carry on a conversation with anybody,” Curtis said. “It’s just astounding to me, because he’s like that in personal conversations, but then he goes up and speaks in front of a million people, and he comes off the same way.”
It’s this authenticity that put Sen. Kaine on the VP shortlist in 2008 and why political analysts believe he is such a good match for Hillary Clinton – a politician who has long struggled with gaining the public’s trust.
“Honestly people have told me that the only reason that they are voting for Hillary is because of my uncle,” Curtis said. “They think he’s a much more likable candidate than Hillary, and they like that he’s on the ticket.”
At times though, this authenticity works against the senator. In an election full of Twitter wars and e-mail scandals, Sen. Kaine has been labeled by many voters and news outlets as “boring.”
“It’s understandable for a 58-year-old, Catholic white dude to be called boring,” Curtis said. “But I think it’s his actions and what he’s done that speak about his character and who he is as a person. I think that’s what people see.”
Another objection Sen. Kaine faces within his own party is for being too conservative on issues like abortion. Catholicism has guided the politician to be personally opposed to abortion. However, he is careful to avoid letting doctrine dictate his politics; Sen. Kaine has repeatedly voted in favor of pro-choice legislation.
“He’ll get flack from the left and the right,” Curtis said. “But he knows that there needs to be separation and that his beliefs shouldn’t affect others who don’t have the same beliefs.”
It is these more conservative views that, in Migliazzo’s opinion, make Sen. Kaine a good running mate, as these views have the potential to pull in a more moderate demographic to the democratic party.
If Sen. Kaine is able to break from campaigning for the votes of those moderates and return to his Rockhurst roots at the reunion, he will have a least one former classmate waiting to shake his hand.
“I’m hoping he shows up,” Migliazzo said. “I would love to go and talk with him and tell him he has my vote.”