The group of young professionals and students met each other inside the grand dome of the Texas State Capitol building, which is tall enough to encase the Statue of Liberty. The visitors were then whisked up to the second floor where they were welcomed by Governor Greg Abbott. President of the Southwest Council for the United States, Murad Ajani, thanked Governor Abbott for his warm welcome on the group’s behalf. Participants would also later hear from the Speaker of the House, Dennis Higgins Bonnen, who was first elected at the age of 24 and encouraged the students and young professionals to get involved in their communities in any capacity.
The group had intimate conversations with an array of Texas Representatives and public servants with diverse backgrounds ranging from from career public servants to corporate professionals-turned politicians. The list included officials such as Representative Carl O. Sherman, who was also the first African-American Mayor of the City of De Soto, and Representative Celia Israel, a first-generation Latina, who explained that public service is “about making that human connection and breaking through the ice. We are all working together on the House floor.”
The smaller sessions started with Secretary of State David Whitley, whose responsibilities under Governor Abbott range from new business filings and international relations for the state to voter registration and commerce. His resounding advice for the group of young, energetic Texans was to volunteer or intern with a state agency.
Representative Celia Israel shared her inspiring account of how campaigning for the late Governor Ann Richards sparked a love of public service. Ann Richards, who is well known for saying “Women can do anything men can do, just backward and in heels,” set a high bar. Representative Israel also encouraged the group to volunteer for a local campaign given the rush, camaraderie and lifetime, grassroots connections one earns.
The students also heard from State Representatives Angie Chen, who is a first-generation immigrant and former Asian-American Council Chairwoman, from State Representative Matt Shaheen, who provided details on how the State Capitol’s internship program works and addressed the different ways the students can make a difference. State Representative John Bucy shared his thoughts on resiliency in the face of setbacks, such as when losing an election but still having the desire to serve.
Muazzim Gilani, currently a junior at Southern Methodist University, especially enjoyed House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s talk about how the Texas house was working on a bill to finance public education. “It gave me an insight into what my elected officials were doing for my community and teachers, and how they were working across the aisle to come up with a bill that would make a positive impact on public education.”
Inaara Shakur Jamal, a senior at The University of Texas at Austin in attendance, reflected that hearing the Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton’s impressions of the Ismaili community was really heartwarming. “We are so fortunate to have a faith that brings people of many different backgrounds together to work towards the betterment of our community.” The Commissioner’s words about the Ismaili community made Inaara feel especially proud to be an Ismaili.
Upon completing the full day at the Capitol, students and young professionals were abuzz with plans for their futures. Muazzim expressed that he felt the next step for the Jamat is to represent our community by running for office and taking on voluntary roles in government. “This will allow us to have a voice and say in the way our government is run and operated,” he says. “This visit has made some kids think about running for public office in the future, including myself.”