In front of an audience tallied at more than 850, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and former Secretary of State and former Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry appeared together as part of the inaugural Harry Reid Public Engagement Lecture Series. The lecture, moderated by University Associate Professor of History Hugh Shapiro, was held from 3-5 p.m., Tuesday, April 3, in the Milt Glick Ballrooms in the Joe Crowley Student Union on the University of Nevada, Reno campus.
The topic for Reid and Kerry's talk was "Bipartisanship and Public Service."
"Senator Reid's personal and professional story has many amazing threads to it," University President Marc Johnson said in his introductory remarks. "One of the most important for Nevadans is that of the value of public service. This was a young man who rose from the most humble of origins in Searchlight, Nevada, to the highest corridors of power in Washington, D.C. This was a man who has spent his life helping all Nevadans, and our country, realize its greatest potential.
Johnson said it was the first Harry Reid Public Engagement Lecture was all about: How distinguished leaders whose careers in government, public service or community activism help demonstrate the important contributions humanities disciplines bring to public life.
"How all have the potential to make a profound difference for others," Johnson said.
The lecture series is a biennial event to honor Reid's many contributions to the University and the state. Reid lecturers will include high-profile individuals whose careers in government, public service, or community activism demonstrate the contribution humanities disciplines can make to public life.
"Senator Reid's papers are the cornerstone of public and academic programs on our campus," Johnson said. "Lectures, exhibits, symposia and publications that will be a catalyst for new and important discussions and understanding of our political process, public policy and citizenship at the local, state and international levels."
The Senator and Secretary conversed for about an hour on topics presented by Shapiro, which included climate change, worldwide movement toward isolation and populism, the rise of the influence of China, current Iranian relations, maintaining peace in North Korea, and how the Senate functioned during their time serving versus today.
For another 45 minutes, Reid and Kerry answered questions submitted by audience members. One which was directed to Kerry and posed by political science and international affairs student Katie W.
"I would love to one day work in the State Department or be a United Nations Ambassador," she said. "I am deeply concerned about disarmament and alleviating conflict in many areas around the world, and would like to work on a global stage to fix these dilemmas. How can I start working to accomplish these goals, and how does one become Secretary of State or a U.N. Ambassador, or hold a leadership position in these areas?"
Reid joked with a response before Kerry answered.
"Be good friends with the president."
Kerry laughed and agreed, then answered saying he's delighted that Katie wants to pursue a career like that and urged all not to sit on the sidelines and instead, to get involved.
"First of all, study like crazy," Kerry said. "You have an unparalleled opportunity in your years at the University now to read, learn, be thirsty, find out, know history, know other countries, know what's happening in the world. Then, when you graduate, become an expert and become involved with a campaign."
To close the program, Shapiro asked, from Auston A. from San Jose, California, "What are you most proud of during your time as Senator or Secretary of State?"
"There's a lot of pulling and pushing when you're in public life," Reid said. "And my accomplishment that I'm proud of more than anything else is that I was able to keep my little family together. Landra and I are still in love like we were in high school; we have five children, 19 grandchildren - that's what I'm happy about."
Kerry echoed the sentiment.
"I'm not saying this because of Harry, but the thing I'm proudest of truly are my kids; my family - no question about it," he said. "In the public sector, I don't land on one thing. I think it's thematic; I've tried to keep faith with a basic set of values, telling truth with power, as I did with Vietnam, when I came back and with fights we've had, for the things I've fought for - as I'm sure Harry feels the same way with health care - he's got to feel great about that. Those are the things that temporally make a difference."
Shapiro, who specializes in East Asian history, China and history of medicine with additional research interest in climate change and global history, sat poised, in between the guest of honor, and diligently held the Senator and Secretary on topic and on time.
"I was struck by four things about Senator Reid and Secretary Kerry: their passionate concern for the health of our democracy; their intellectual brilliance; their faith in young people; the profundity of their contributions to our country and our communities," Shapiro, a popular Smithsonian Expert, said.
Shapiro earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from Stanford University and his doctorate degree in history and East Asian languages from Harvard University.
Reid retired from the Senate in January 2017, concluding an historic 30-year career as Nevada's senator. He served as Senate Majority Leader for a decade, presiding over landmark healthcare legislation, as well as clean and renewable energy acts that led to thousands of Nevada jobs. Reid led the way in the creation of The Great Basin National Park in Nevada and brought unprecedented attention and funding to save Lake Tahoe. Reid announced in August 2016 that he would be donating his papers to the University, which have found a home in Special Collections and University Archives.
Kerry, a former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts who served in the Senate from 1985-2013, was the nation's 68th Secretary of State under President Barack Obama from 2013-2017. Kerry is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who was chosen as the Democratic Party's nominee for president in 2004. He has been at Lawlor Events Center, appearing before a reported crowd of more than 14,000 people while on the presidential campaign trail in October 2004.
The next Harry Reid Public Engagement Lecture will be planned for 2020.