In yesterday’s election, Rep. Chris Van Hollen '83 (D) won Maryland's open Senate seat, defeating his opponent Kathy Szeliga (R) and succeeding Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D), an incumbent who did not seek a sixth term in office. Van Hollen has served as the U.S. Representative for Maryland’s 8th congressional district since 2003.
“Mr. Van Hollen understands the nuances of issues ranging from the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo to the need to expand Baltimore's Howard Street rail tunnel. Even among veterans of Washington, few can match his depth of knowledge. That's been a crucial ingredient in his success,” the Baltimore Sun wrote in their endorsement of Van Hollen. “He's not the kind of politician who's just out to score invitations to appear on Meet the Press (though he's gotten plenty). He's the kind who is willing to do the kind of hard work that is the prerequisite to getting anything done in a highly partisan Congress.”
Van Hollen graduated from Swarthmore College with a B.A. in philosophy. While at Swarthmore, he began his activist career working with the Nuclear Weapons Education Project and with a group lobbying the College to divest its holdings in companies in South Africa. He went on to earn a masters degree in public policy and national security issues from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a law degree from Georgetown University.
Upon accepting an honorary Doctorate of Laws from Swarthmore in 2014, Van Hollen noted how "we increasingly find a divided public talking past each other in competing echo chambers." In response, he encouraged graduates:
"to buck this trend and make a deliberate effort to listen to alternative views that test your own assumptions. At the risk of raising my family's blood pressure, I do watch the cable shows associated with opposing viewpoints. It has helped me better understand the perspective of others and I urge you - regardless of your views - to do the same and raise your political blood pressure. ...
"I am not naive enough to believe this will end political polarization. Most of our political differences stem from genuine disagreements that are part of a healthy democracy. And we also know that the truth - or the right policy - does not necessarily lie at the mid-point between two opposing political positions.
"Still, even when better listening doesn't result in compromises that advance the common good, a clearer understanding of opposing views helps to better define the real choices we face."
He concluded by quoting Eleanor Roosevelt, who said the world needs dreamers and the world needs doers, but, most of all, the world needs dreamers who do.
"I know that Swarthmore has prepared you to be both dreamers and doers, and to make the world a better place," he said. "Let's get to work."