Temple University’s 2018 Student Commencement Speaker Wants Everyone to Have a Chair at the Table
By: Nick Santangelo
Commencement is this week, Class of 2018! For most Temple University seniors, it’s easy enough. All you have to do is listen to some speeches, grab your diploma when your name is called and move your tassel when it’s time. But for political science major Paige Hill, there’s a little more to it. Hill is the 2018 student commencement speaker, but she’s not nervous—she’s anticipant. After all, her four years of Temple experiences have prepared her for this moment.
“I’m really excited about what I want to say, and I want to deliver it as best I can,” says Hill. “So, less nervous, more anticipation.”
But then, Hill has never been the type to be nervous about putting herself out there and trying something new during her time at Temple. Coming to North Philly from Peekskill, NY, she got involved with the mock trial team in her first semester and registered for a 400-level course in the next one after a conversation with the professor.
“I was so excited to jump right in and see what I could learn!” she says with a laugh. “That continued, like I really enjoyed my time here and wanted to see what else I could do that had more depth.”
If you still think speaking in front of students should scare Hill, maybe the fact that her next stop was prison will change your mind. Don’t worry, though, she was there voluntarily, participating in a program called Inside Out that brings traditional college students together with incarcerated students for a semester of learning. Learning at a federal corrections facility in Philadelphia would stick with Hill, who credits the program with piquing her interest in policy work and criminal justice reform.
She spent her next semester learning abroad at Temple Rome, which might seem unconnected until you understand that her interest in politics isn’t restrained only to public policy. It also extends to foreign service. And while her career might one day take her down that road, Hill was back in Philadelphia that summer working as an intern for the Democratic National Convention. She credits the College of Liberal Arts’ Institute of Public Affairs with helping her land the position.
“It was kind of one thing after another, so I was never just taking classes,” says Hill of her many and varied extracurricular activities. “I think it’s because Temple has so many options that made me kind of want to use my financial aid package or scholarship to study abroad. Also, because the College of Liberal Arts is so flexible, I was able to take these courses I was interested in and learn more while still being on track to graduate.”
Getting to Work
While the College of Liberal Arts encourages students like Hill to find ways to get involved with things they’re passionate about every semester, it also pushes them to turn those passions into their life’s work. Enjoying your time at college while preparing for what’s next are not mutually exclusive ideas for Temple students. Realizing this, Hill visited the Professional Development team as her sophomore year was coming to a close and inquired about her “dream internship” at the U.S. Department of State.
College of Liberal Arts Professional Development counselors pointed her toward an ambassador/liaison type of role working with college student recruitment. She didn’t get the job—not at first.
“But because I had made that connection and had more time to work on my personal statement with the careers center, the writing center, my faculty mentors, I ended up getting the internship the following year. So, Temple’s been great at every step of the way.”
Hill also discovered that the College of Liberal Arts faculty could help her find opportunities. Political Science Chair and Professor Robin Kolodny “knows everything and everyone in politics in Philadelphia,” or so says Hill. Dr. Kolodny used her connections to find Hill a 2016 internship with Planned Parenthood, which Hill describes as her “most fun” internship because it involved so much hands-on political work. As a Planned Parenthood intern, she did political work like phone banking and door-to-door canvassing.
Still, working at State was her most “educational” internship. Hill describes the people she worked with there as extremely intelligent and willing and able to pass on their deep knowledge about the work to her. It’s funny, then, that one of Hill’s most vivid memories of the job was preparing a research memo on something she didn’t know anything about. Naturally, that didn’t stop her from jumping in and delivering her best.
“I kind of tapped into my global arts research skills and came up with something that my boss was really impressed with,” she says. “And it was also really nice to see those skills be able to be used in the field and be used really highly in the field, so that was very validating.”
Glancing Back, Looking Ahead
Hill’s interest in politics and public service goes back to before her time at Temple. In fact, it’s one of the reasons she chose the school. Temple’s urban campus would give her the chance to get involved with local politics in one of the nation’s largest cities, the place where democracy was born. Combined with the flexibility of Temple’s political science degree and the potential opportunities to intern in DC, it became clear that North Broad was the place for Hill.
After graduation, she plans to further her education in the field with a master’s in public policy or international relations and possibly a PhD after that. She’s holding off on applying to master’s programs while figuring out the right path, but she’s not sitting still. Hill is hoping to hear some good news soon about a Princeton University post-baccalaureate political science program she applied to.
“I’m really fascinated by this idea that words can become law, and that you can affect change with words, and that it’s the product of compromise and hard work,” she says of her seemingly constant pursuit of more political knowledge. “And many, many people’s opinions can come together onto a sheet of paper that becomes a policy that can feed children during the summer when they’re out of school or it could reduce transportation fees for people who can’t afford them.”
Pulling up Chairs
When all the education is done, Hill sees herself working either in foreign public service or in an academic political science role. But long before any of that, she still has that speech ahead of her. It’s been four years, but she got some practice for the moment by speaking at her high school graduation in Peekskill. When Temple put out the call for commencement speakers, Hill knew she wanted to reprise her role as speaker, this time at the university level. And she wasn’t going to settle for writing “a generic speech.”
When she addresses the Class of 2018, Hill will quote Shirley Chisholm: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
A Caribbean-American from New York, Chisholm was the first black U.S. congresswoman and the first woman to seek a major party’s presidential nomination. Close to 50 years after Chisholm was first elected to Congress, another Caribbean-American woman from New York working in politics would see Chisholm’s portrait hanging in the Capital Building.
She may just get back to that building one day. But wherever she and her fellow graduating classmates end up, Paige Hill wants them to not just bring their own chair, but also to “pull another one up to the table next to you for the person behind you.”