Robert Wright and Sarah Sibley have a lot in common, though they toiled on opposite sides of the recent U.S. Senate race between Republican Cory Gardner and Democratic incumbent Mark Udall.
The 2014 graduates, both 19, worked long and hard on the campaigns – Wright for Gardner, Sibley for Udall – emerging a bit bruised but stronger, ready to take on new challenges. Each joined the campaign in August.
Wright’s duties focused on voter contact, knocking on many doors, making phone calls and responding to information requests.
“It was quite the experience,” said Wright, who’s headed to George Washington University in the fall – but first, four months in Nepal to teach English, followed by one month in India. “You definitely get used to a lot of rejection. A lot of people don’t necessarily like talking to you about politics. Some were genuinely interested in what you had to say, in different issues that came up with the campaign.
“Other people would be horrified that you would work for a Republican candidate, swear at you, tell you to get off the porch. Others were nice about it, but still rejected you and said, ‘I’m not interested.’ You learn how to deal with all sorts of people.”
Sibley, who enters Duke University in the fall, worked as a field organizer, recruiting volunteers “seven days a week, 12 hours a day.” She learned, “You can work much harder than you think you can. I learned how to connect with people, how to get their buy-in. I learned how difficult it can be. I interned on a couple of campaigns in the past, and learned how hard it is to get people to care about their vote.
“I have an even better understanding of that. Many people don’t like to vote in midterm elections. We have to figure out a way to have a message that lets people understand what happens thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C., affects them.” Sibley was thrilled when called upon to introduce former President Bill Clinton at a campaign rally.
She’s scheduled a trip to China in January, where she plans to do language immersion to learn Chinese. But her plans may change, as she’s contemplatingswitching to Spanish and thus another country. And in the meantime, she’s doing post-campaign work, such as emptying offices and implementing ballot cures – making flawed ballots whole so they’ll make the overall count.
Both credit Colorado Academy for what they learned there.
“The best thing Colorado Academy can teach you is to be confident in what you’re saying, thinking and arguing,” Sibley said. “Colorado Academy made me comfortable enough to make the leap to do something that I was scared to do. It’s been great; I have more connections than I thought I’d have. I know more than ever that this is something I want to do and something I can do.”
Both participated in the Mock Trial program while at Colorado Academy.
“You had to think and be articulate on your feet,” Sibley said. “People at Colorado Academy are very sociable. We learned how to be persuasive. My whole (campaign) job was trying to persuade people to do something they may not have wanted to do.”
She plans to major in political science at Duke, but also, “I want to pair it with something more quantitative, a math or a hard science.”
Wright said, “I think Colorado Academy does an unbelievable job teaching you a lot of skills that other schools don’t necessarily teach you: How to deal with teachers and interpersonal skills that helped me on the campaign. “Every teacher at Colorado Academy loves what they’re doing, love every day, love teaching the kids. I guess that sort of rubbed off on me.”
He left for Nepal on Nov. 11, where he’ll work at a Buddhist school for all grades, starting with pre-K. The school is in a small town named Boudhanath, near Katmandu.
“My family has a connection with the school,” Wright said. “We sponsor a student there. I knew I wanted to be working in that part of the world. I didn’t know exactly what country, but I knew I wanted to be in that area. I’m fascinated by the religions over there and the Eastern medicines.”
His family has sponsored that one student for about 15 years, and he sends letters to the Wright family. “I’ll be able to meet him for the first time,” Wright said.
He also plans to learn Nepalese, the native language.