Politics is life for one KSU student

Brooke Forrest

On election night, Padraigin O’Flynn nervously watched the results come in with her fellow Hillary Clinton campaign volunteers. She had dedicated the last few months to being a Clinton campaign fellow at Kent State.

O’Flynn spent countless hours registering voters, phone banking and canvassing all over the Kent and Akron area. She even spoke at the Kent State Clinton rally alongside Ohio politicians.

Despite her hard work, impressive achievements and concern for the results she didn’t vote for Clinton. She couldn’t, because she is only 17.

“I have been mad about not being able to vote (in this election) for a solid three years. But I think it just made me wanna work harder,” said the sophomore political science and economics major. “If I can’t have one vote, then I’m going to make sure that five hundred other people have one to make up for that.”

Despite being unable to vote, O’Flynn found numerous political outlets at Kent State since she started at 16, including taking part in Model NATO, the College Democrats and the Student Economist Association.

Outside of campus, she worked as a political affairs intern for the Borgen Project, a non-profit organization.

“I went to DC to discuss a couple bills addressing global poverty with (Ohio) Sen. Rob Portman, as well as staffers from (Ohio) Sen. Sherrod Brown and Congressman Tim Ryan’s offices,” O’Flynn said.

This past summer O’Flynn started to work with the Clinton campaign on Kent State’s campus.

“(O’Flynn) was a fellow, which was essentially an intern,” said Zach Sand, a Clinton campaign campus organizer and junior political science major at Kent State. “She handled voter registration drives … (and) had more of a leadership role because she was such a great fellow, especially at the end.”

As she continued working on the campaign, O’Flynn said she just kept getting more and more involved.

“By the last month or so before the election, I was in the office working, like, 20 hours a week,” O’Flynn said.

O’Flynn was one of two student speakers at the Oct. 31 Clinton rally at Kent State.

“I selected (Clinton as my presidential candidate of choice) because of all the hard work she put in and because she’s very much for LGBT(Q) rights and women’s rights, which I think is very much in line with everything the campaign believed in,” Sand said. “(O’ Flynn) is just very well spoken in general.”

“It was terrifying, absolutely the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was so scary,” O’Flynn said on speaking at the rally.

Her speech addressed the work she and other student volunteers have done and the importance of voting. However, O’Flynn was surprised that one of the biggest reactions from her speech was telling the crowd she was only 17.

“I love her speech; I was so proud of her. It was like a proud dad moment,” Sand said.

For O’Flynn, the one thing that may have been scarier than giving her speech was seeing Clinton in person and meeting her.

“I was like ‘Wow, that’s so weird that she’s real,’” O’Flynn said on meeting the Democratic presidential nominee. “That’s her, that’s a real candidate — this is why I’m doing this.”

Clinton went around the room and was introduced to the various campaign workers and local politicians.

Clinton thanked O’Flynn for her campaign work, and O’Flynn thanked Clinton in return for “paving the way for women in politics.”

“Then (Clinton) responded, ‘No, we do it together,’” O’Flynn said.

“Just getting to be there and interact with her for literally 30 seconds almost brought me back down to earth and made everything seem real,” O’Flynn said. “This is who I’m working for, this is what I want to get accomplished … it empowered me to work even harder. It was amazing … one of the greatest experiences. I still look back on the pictures and it feels surreal.”

Even though she admittedly is much more interested in policy than campaign work, O’Flynn said she loved working on the campaign.

“I drank a lot of coffee and I didn’t not sleep enough, but it was amazing,” O’Flynn said.“Our campaign team, we became a family.”

“(O’Flynn) is one of the greatest people to work with — her intelligence, her drive, her whole heart. Her whole heart’s huge. It’s just something to look up to,” Sand said. “She’s just one of the greatest people I’ve had the privilege of working with and calling a friend.”

O’Flynn’s interest in politics came at a young age: Her mother, Mary Padula, recalls the 2008 election with future President Barack Obama as a catalyst to some of her interest.

“Ever since I was younger I would stay up late for the caucuses and primaries,” O’Flynn said. “I would always get mad when my mom made me go to bed.”

Politics were frequently discussed in the home, especially between O’Flynn’s father and grandmother.

O’Flynn comes from a very politically independent household and said her parents weren’t sure how to react to her getting involved so heavily in a campaign.

But after they saw how active and passionate she was, they realized they were happy she was happy and doing work she cared about.

“That’s been her, her whole life. The way she is now, she’s always been a go-getter,” Padula said.

Throughout childhood and into high school, O’Flynn was always busy taking part in numerous activities, including Irish dance, tennis, speech and debate, theater, art, choir, church activities and more.

“She’s always liked learning and that’s probably something from our own family system,” Padula said. “When I wanted to play, Padraigin wanted to read. So she was reading at the age of three.”

Her parents then chose to home school her eventually sending her to school at Our Lady of the Elms in Akron.

She started school in fourth grade, despite being second grade age. Though her parents worried for her socially because she was so much younger, O’Flynn fit right in and “flourished” at her school.

“She never skipped a grade, never skipped a beat, ended up salutatorian of her class doing all those things and now absolutely loves Kent State,” Padula said.

In addition to the political activities O’Flynn takes part in she also in highly interested in economics.

This past summer O’Flynn worked on economic and political research with economics professor, Curtis Lockwood Reynolds.

“She’s an excellent student and she did great work on a pretty complex topic over the summer break.It was very impressive work she tried to do early in the the program,” Reynolds said. “She’s a pretty impressive person, just with her performance in the classroom and as a research assistant. She’s just also a really nice person that works really hard and has a great personality. The kind of person you’d really want to interact with a lot.”

Reynolds was especially impressed with how accomplished she is at only 17.

O’Flynn said she usually “blends in” as college age but still surprises people when they find out how old she actually is.

Jared Strubel, junior political science major met O’Flynn last year through the College Democrats and said he was “pretty astonished” to find out she was only sixteen at the time.

“I was kinda like ‘oh, wow’,” Strubel said. “You’re involved, making phone calls, getting involved in local campaigns and you’re sixteen. I had other things on my mind when I was sixteen.”

“She’s amazing. I don’t think she sleeps,” Strubel said. “She’s always taking up new challenges or opportunities, she doesn’t shy away from anything and she’s very good at what she does.”

“She’s always been a human rights person,” Padula said. “The rights of people is very strong within her (and) I think that’s what’s projecting her into this whole economic political area. She wants to make sure everybody is being treated equally no matter who they are.”

Though campaign work inspired O’Flynn and taught her that you can “really get involved in government and make change,” she isn’t sure yet what she wants to do after college.

She’s considered a number of possible avenues including going into public policy, economics, attending law school. Or maybe even running for office one day. But she’s not sure yet, saying she’s “still young.”

“Older generations think millennials are apathetic. But from I’ve seen, I don’t think that’s the case at all, ” O’Flynn said. “I don’t think we don’t care. I just think a lot of people are disillusioned with the political process. But I think once you get involved in it you realize how big an impact you can have.”

After her campaign work and the disappointment of Clinton’s loss, O’Flynn has found herself motivated to not only not give up, but to push further into politics and policy.

“Well, (Clinton) couldn’t (win), but maybe I can … that fuels me solely because it didn’t happen in this election,” O’Flynn said. “Just seeing Clinton be the Democratic (presidential) nominee (and) just seeing how far she got was a big deal.”

O’Flynn said she sees politics playing a major part in her future — including the possibility of holding public office.

“People tell you your whole life you can do anything and be anything, and that is so true,” she said. “But not seeing a women in office makes that harder.”

Brooke Forrest is the politics reporter, contact her at [email protected].