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N.J. Governor and First Lady discuss 'The Art of Public Service'

Governor Phil Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy told their experiences with public service and hopes for promoting diversity

The Governor and First Lady centered much of their discussion around diversity.
The Governor and First Lady centered much of their discussion around diversity.

The Miller Center and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy jointly hosted a discussion with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy in Garrett Hall Wednesday afternoon. 

The event was free but required prior registration to attend. Over 50 students and faculty members were in attendance, including a large number of students hailing from New Jersey, with whom Gov. Murphy requested to take a photo at the end of the discussion. 

William Antholis, director of the Miller Center, began the event by introducing the two guests and explaining how the University has been and remains connected to New Jersey in many ways. James Madison, who helped Thomas Jefferson establish the University, attended Princeton University in New Jersey. Woodrow Wilson, who briefly attended the University’s Law School also attended Princeton and was the governor of New Jersey. President Jim Ryan was born and raised in New Jersey and still goes there for vacation. 

“Much like Virginia, New Jersey has been a place where commerce and public service meet, where the skills of private leadership translate into public service,” Antholis said. 

Governor and First Lady Murphy also have a personal connection to the University — Tammy Murphy graduated from the College in 1987 with a Bachelor of Arts in communications and English. Their daughter, Emma Murphy, is currently a second-year student at the University.

Ian Solomon, Dean of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, moderated the discussion, which was titled “The Art of Public Service.” The couple have had a long history of public service and work within the public sector. 

“I was born in Boston, grew up just outside of Boston, and we didn’t have two pennies to rub together,” Gov. Murphy said. “My dad did high school. My mom did public service calls. Kennedy politics was a big part of growing up and I assume that’s probably the biggest reason [public service] was inside of me.” 

Tammy Murphy’s family has always been actively engaged in the community. Her grandmother started the first latchkey program in Virginia. Growing up under these influences, Tammy Murphy continues to enjoy being involved and giving back to others. 

The Governor and First Lady also discussed the skills they learned from college that they’ve continued to use throughout their careers — the First Lady making particular note of the values instilled in her by the University’s Honor system.

“One of the biggest skill sets that I’ve gained here was being able to write and communicate because you need that no matter what field you’re in,” Tammy Murphy said. “And then separately, the Honor system. Being self-aware and knowing that you're responsible for your actions, I think that was a really good lesson for me to learn when I was here.”

For Gov. Murphy, acting was the biggest skill he learned. He was president of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals when he attended Harvard University and managed to incorporate the skills he learned there into his political career.

“Learning how to act, stand up in front of people, particularly when scenery starts to fall apart, someone else forgets their line,” Gov. Murphy said. “Having done that hundreds if not thousands of times, it’s kept me in good stead particularly when standing in front of hostile crowds in New Jersey.” 

The Governor and First Lady centered much of their discussion around diversity. According to Gov. Murphy, New Jersey has the second-largest Muslim American community, fourth-largest Indian American community and second-largest Jewish community in the United States. As the most densely populated state in the United States, this makes it invariably one of the most diverse. 

“You’ve gotta be governor, first lady, for all of the above,” Gov. Murphy said. “You've gotta make sure they have a genuine belief, that you’re in it for them, and that when you say we rise and fall as a family, you mean it.” 

The couple have often hosted events where they deliberately invite people from different backgrounds to celebrations of other cultures in order to foster a respect and understanding of each other. 

In light of the Jersey City shootings in December and the recent spike in anti-Semitism and alt-right movements, Murphy said he believes in the importance of putting the educational system to use so that everyone can understand current events and remain aware of their implications. 

First-year College student Camille Kielbasa heard about the event from her father and was interested in seeing the governor and first lady in person. 

“I heard about the governor before and he seemed like a really outstanding guy and I thought it was really cool that both him and the first lady were here,” Kielbasa said. “I thought he answered all of the questions very well and it was just nice to see two people who’ve clearly worked really hard to be where they are and who are actually enacting change.”