by Luke Warford

On a Monday afternoon in April, Senator Chris Coons came to UD to speak with a classroom full of Honors Program students. Throughout our interactions with Senator Coons, I think what students were most struck by was how genuine and straightforward he was. He talked about the very real and sometimes unfair pressures which accompany life as a Senator allow little time to spend with one’s family. He admitted how those pressures, even after only several months in office, had begun to tax him personally. He discussed oddities in the system, for example, how he might enjoy a morning coffee with an opposition Senator only to have that same Senator drive him crazy during committee session later in the day. He also reflected on some of the more sobering moments he has had as a Senator, such as witnessing the arrival of bodies of deceased service men and women in Dover the week before.

And Senator Coons was funny. He joked with Professor Arnold as he entered the room and challenged us to ask him questions too tough to answer—for the first of these questions, he put on the spot an unsuspecting student who had arrived late and was still settling into his chair. Senator Coons responded wittily and intelligently to the questions we posed, making his familiarity with a broad range of issues very clear. He also commended us as students for our participation in the Honors Program, smiling and proclaiming, “smart kids win”.

After his talk, a small group of students were invited to accompany Senator Coons to dinner at a local restaurant. This gave us a further look into his persona. He gave up the floor to the students, asking us about our interests and experiences. His responses to our comments showed his genuine interest in our activities. He also admitted to being tired after a long day, and that all he wanted to do was to get home in time to spend 30 minutes with his children before putting them to bed. After Senator Coons left, many of the students stuck around for dessert, discussing our responses to the Senator’s presentation as well as other topics of interest, and I was reminded of one of the less obvious benefits of an event such as this one—the ability to allow motivated and informed students to interact and learn from each other.

Overall, the talk with Senator Coons gave me some hope about the policymakers in Washington. A few minutes watching C-Span might make viewers concerned that this country’s lawmakers are disconnected with most Americans, lacking the energy and passion which the decisions they are making deserve. An afternoon with Senator Coons would break that conception. He was energetic and knowledgeable, and willing to level with us in a way we all really appreciated.