Tackling divisiveness, disrupting the status quo, showing up for something you believe in and changing the world were just a few of the messages former Ohio Gov. John Kasich shared with a crowd of several hundred at Molloy College on April 10.
“We attempt to educate the next generation of leaders,” Molloy President Drew Bogner told audience members before Kasich was introduced. “We expect our students to define success by what they do for others.”
Kasich, 66, who ran in the Republican presidential primary in 2016, spoke candidly about a range of ideas during his hour on the Madison Theatre stage. He ignored the lectern, pacing the stage and meeting the eyes of audience members as he delivered his talk, “How to Heal Our Political Divisions,” at the Rockville Centre college’s 15th Joe and Peggy Maher Leadership Forum.
“They can’t get together and eat dinner for Thanksgiving,” he said of families, “because we have a brawl that breaks out because people are so much against Trump or they hate Hillary. It’s just ridiculous.”
Joe Maher, a former Molloy faculty member, and his wife, Peggy, both died in 2010. Over the years, the forum in their name has welcomed a range of media and political leaders, including MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and James A. Baker III, and others.
Noting early on that his remarks were “not a canned political talk,” Kasich implored audience members of all political parties and backgrounds to explore a new way of thinking.
“You want to worry about who’s the president,” he said. “Forget the president. Think about where you live, and who you deal with and who you contact and how you can change the world. That’s what life is all about.”
He shared a story about a man in Pittsburgh who spent years shining shoes at a children’s hospital, donating $200,000 in profits throughout his life to a hospital fund that helps parents pay their children’s medical bills, and one about a 5-year-old girl who went around her neighborhood collecting supplies for hurricane victims.
He lauded concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas in October 2017 who threw their bodies in front of others to protect them from a gunman’s bullets at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. “Just out of reflex,” Kasich said. “They didn’t say, ‘Who’d you vote for?’ or ‘What was your philosophy?’”
He also stressed kindness and love, noting that supporting others is key to making a positive impact, especially young people, as more seem to be struggling with mental health issues than ever before. “Hug ’em, love ’em . . . make a difference,” he said. “It’s not hard. Build ’em up. Tell ’em they’re pretty and they’re handsome and they’re smart and they’re going to have a great life and give ’em positivity. Our children need it.
“Work hard, don’t squander your gifts,” he continued. “But I love ya. I love ya for who you are, what you are, and what you can do.”
He asked how much the president affects people’s everyday lives, and emphasized that elected officials’ influence is limited by their constituents. “Power does not come from the top down. Power flows from the bottom up,” he said, pointing to how citizens’ voices and dedication to change led the women’s suffrage and civil rights movements in America. More movements are in progress or coming, he added, referencing unrest over the drug crisis and existing gun laws, or lack thereof.
Kasich met with Molloy students before the discussion for about 30 minutes, sharing life advice, his thoughts on what being a conservative means and his belief that the Republican Party is now “bankrupt on ideas” while young Democratic presidential candidates have plenty. He noted, however, that if Democrats gravitate too far left, they won’t win in 2020.
He added, however, that he believes there is a shift among citizens, who no longer vote with a specific party. “People are increasingly going to become more independent,” Kasich noted. “. . . They’re going to say, ‘I’m going to be for the best person.’”
That point was one of the biggest takeaways for Molloy sophomore Jack Ryan, who has a double major in political science and history. “One of the main things he said about political parties is using it as a vehicle, not a master,” Ryan said. “It has to do with the person — dignity, civility, and all of us having a willingness and accountability to create a more amiable America.”
Ryan was one of three student winners of a Molloy essay contest, conducted ahead of the event, about civility and its place in American politics. He wrote about finding common ground in the political world.
Another contest winner, Gabrielle Anzalone, a freshman political science and philosophy major, described Kasich after the talk as charismatic, and noted that he was moderate in his views and able to see both sides.
“I really appreciated how he mentioned that power starts from the bottom up,” Anzalone told the Herald. “It really expresses the idea that America is about power given to the people. That’s the premise the country’s based upon.
“For him to say the power starts with you is empowering,” she added, “because you remember that you’re able to do something about it.”