Annapolis – Congress to Campus
© Greg Nash

The combined voices of four thousand United States Naval Academy midshipmen echoed from the walls of King Hall, the massive facility where three times a day, meals are served to future Navy and Marine Corps officers. It was our pleasure to join the young men and women as they rushed in from classes for their noon meal. The midshipmen have little time for lunch, certainly no time to relax. We rushed our lunch, just as they did; we were due back in class as well.

King Hall is named for Ernest J. King, U.S. Naval Academy class of 1901.  King was Chief of Naval Operations during World War II, one of only four men to hold the rank of Fleet Admiral.  History is everywhere at the Annapolis academy.  One of your young hosts showed us, with great pride, the resting place for John Paul Jones in the Naval Academy Chapel.  There is nothing easy about earning a degree at the Naval Academy but some of America’s finest are there to carry on the tradition of excellence and prepare for leadership in the Navy and Marines.

Our visit to the Naval Academy, to share our experience as members of the United States Congress, was organized by Former Members of Congress association. The Association sponsors a program called Congress to Campus that sends bipartisan teams of two former members on visits to higher education campuses around the country to allow tomorrow’s leaders to hear actual experiences of people who served in the Congress. College courses are filled with theory and factual information. We meet with students to provide real-life context as they examine the applied and practical piece of the political puzzle. 

Just over 12,000 men and women have had the honor to serve their country as members of the United States Congress. We, and our other former colleagues, are proud of that service. We also understand that a healthy democracy depends on educated and enlightened people who are willing to leave the comfort of nine-to-five jobs and enter the political fray. That is why we volunteer our time to visit campuses across the country, schools ranging in size from tiny community colleges to prominent names in higher education.

At the Naval Academy, we were two people with real-world experience, answering questions and commenting on careers that included happy victories and disappointing defeats. We put a face on an institution that receives far too little credit for the quality of individuals who serve there. 

“Did you ever make a serious mistake as a congressman?”  “What was the most significant achievement in your political career?”  “Why is politics so nasty these days?”  “How can we get the budget balanced?”  “What can we do to reduce the influence of campaign contributions?” 

These were typical of the questions we were asked during the two days of back-to-back classes we had the opportunity to be featured speakers in. We did our best to provide honest and candid answers.  One of our favorite questions was, “How does someone get started start in politics?” a question we could only answer with resounding encouragement.

Over the years, the two of us have become very dear friends.  We do not always agree on the issues of the day but we admire and respect one another.  And as former members of Congress we are united by a common goal: we want as many students around the country as possible to see that those who serve in Congress are hard-working, dedicated men and women who answered the call to public service for the good of the nation.

We left Annapolis with renewed hope for the future of our country.  We met a generation of young men and women, from diverse racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds who are dedicated to service. These young people are bright and eager to take on the challenges our modern world presents. 

We believe ours is the greatest country on earth and there is no greater honor than to serve that country. Our unique division of powers – the executive, legislative and judicial branches – has served our nation for generations, providing political stability for generations.

As we departed Annapolis, we both left reassured that our institutions of higher education are filled with young people of great promise, just like each of the students we met at the Naval Academy. We have every reason to believe our nation’s future is secure. 

La Rocco represented Idaho in the House of Representatives from 1991-1995 and Chandler represented Washington from 1983-1993. Both are members of the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress.