Former Walsh Director Recalls Spark to Life of Public Service
OLEAN, NY – U.S. Rep. Joe Sempolinski, R-Corning, returned Thursday to Archbishop Walsh Academy/Southern Tier Catholic School with a message inspiring high schoolers to be active citizens.
Sempolinski, the former Walsh/STCS Director of Development, addressed the Walsh teens who are or will soon be of voting age. He recalled volunteering in town government in his youth and interning for late Congressman Amo Houghton as his spark to a life of public service.
“I was always interested in government. I was one of those young kids who knew every president,” Sempolinski said. “I’ve always been very excited and passionate about the issues. Just because you’re young, it doesn’t matter if you’re 17 or 18 or 12 or 13. It just sort of clicked for me when I was 16 or 17. Life is a lot more fun when you have something you’re really passionate about.”
He added, “Government is where you can do a lot of good for a lot of people. If you make a good law, you can help everybody in the country – 350 million people.”
Far removed from his days of sending faxes for Congressman Houghton, Sempolinski at age 39 is halfway through an interim four-month stint as the representative of New York’s 23rd Congressional District. After the resignation of his predecessor and winning a special election, Sempolinski will temporarily serve until leaving office in January for a new congressperson.
“I will not be in office as of Jan. 3, so we’ve tried to be very aggressive. I’m not here to be a symbolic placeholder. I’m here to work,” Sempolinski told the students. “How do we build that agenda? I’ve made a goal of doing a town hall meeting in every county that I represent. That’s 11 counties, and we’ve already done eight. I’ve also been out talking to a lot of businesses, other elected people and lots of schools. Four months, four minutes, four weeks, four years, it doesn’t matter.”
Walsh/STCS President Dr. Colleen Taggerty said the congressman’s devotion to service in such a short window sets a great example.
“I think that goes to show the students how much can be done in just four months,” Taggerty said. “That’s a valuable lesson. Sometimes people in part-time or temporary roles can be even more impactful than people on the job for years. Hard work and integrity accomplishes a lot when time isn’t on your side.”
Sempolinski sits on the House Education Committee, and he raises two young children with his school teacher wife. From that perspective, he noted, his office must engage the next generation.
But he also acknowledged today’s polarized society. The congressman advised the students to stay informed and become active voters and citizens, noting the importance of all levels of government in daily life. Most importantly, he urged students to be willing to respectfully engage opposing viewpoints.
“It’s very easy nowadays, especially with social media, to get in a bubble only with people who look at the world the same way you do. That pours gasoline on our polarization problems. Just because somebody doesn’t agree with you doesn’t make them a bad person. It doesn’t mean you can’t agree on other things. We’re at a Catholic school, so I can say, ‘Do unto others as you would have done unto you.’”