Ethan Bachand ’22
Former White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough visited Holy Cross to give a speech regarding refugees on Wednesday, February 6. The talk, given in Rehm library, provided personal anecdotes as well as a deep analysis into the current situation facing the United States. Attendance at the event was incredible, with students lining the walls as well as sitting in the middle aisle.
A native of Stillwater, Minnesota, McDonough served in two different positions during the Obama administration. During the President’s first term he operated as the Deputy National Security Advisor, followed by four years as White House Chief of Staff in the second term.
To open up his talk, Mr. McDonough offered an account of his first week as Chief of Staff, telling the audience how President Obama criticized his work and challenged him to be better. The anecdote set a serious yet also warm tone that would carry through the entire event.
Three components made up the bulk of the presentation, combining more anecdotes with current politics. The first account was the story of a man, Mohammed, that Mr. McDonough met while overseas in a refugee camp. This was followed by another personal story, detailing the life of a refugee that stayed with his family in McDonough’s childhood.
The third and final component was the story of Ilhan Omar, a former Somali refugee that came to America and has risen to be a member of the United States House of Representatives. Together, these three pieces created an informative picture depicting the real human components behind an issue in the current crisis that is typically viewed as faceless.
Scattered throughout the talk were also calls to action as well as facts. Mr. McDonough noted that war is not the only thing that can cause a refugee crisis, citing that global warming threatens to displace over 2.5 billion Africans by the year 2050.
Prompted by an audience question, Mr. McDonough called upon the young members of the audience to participate in civil service. He praised young people who are interested in politics and encouraged them to find any active role that would allow them to help. As he stated in his talk, “The cure to what ails us is us.”
Livia Graham, a first-year student and political science major who attended the talk, stated afterwards, “I liked how he told us to consider serving others. Through the stories he told and shared with us it was a call to action.”
Fellow first-year student Jocelyn Buggy added to the admiration, saying that “His call for us to treat one another as brothers and sisters was heartwarming. I liked hearing about how his family took in refugees because it seemed as if he really cared about the issue personally.”
Due to time restrictions, there was only a limited number of questions. McDonough jokingly opened with asking any person who he called on if they were from Minnesota, to which two members of the community actually responded yes.
Speaking after the event, Mr. McDonough stated that “I was really happy to be here, both because of the school’s reputation of engagement and leadership, but also because of my personal interest in its history and my interest in wanting to communicate to students that government service is an admirable and important thing. I hope all your readers and all the students here give it serious consideration.”