Writing to America: Lessons in Leadership


A stack of my stamped letters addressed to various United States government officials.

Over the past few months, more than a dozen letters arrived in my mailbox, sent from the offices of some of the United States’ most powerful leaders, including The Deputy Secretary of State, The Secretary of Education and a number of State Governors. These letters did not arrive out of the blue, though, as less than a year before, I had written to them. In fact, every state and territorial Governor, multiple Cabinet Secretaries, leaders of federal government departments and agencies and the Vice President and President themselves, received a letter from me. The responses I received helped me to form an opinion on the responsibility of elected and appointed officials to respond to constituent mail.

 In the letters I sent out, which were all the same, I asked these leaders about their thoughts regarding public service. I asked them “what does it mean for you to be a leader of this nation?”, “what most contributed to your success and career journey?”, and “what would you like the youth of America to know?”. Only a few of the responses I received, however, answered these questions; excluding the secretaries who responded, most of the letters I received were automated, pre-written mail-out responses. Oftentimes, they were sent in thick envelopes containing a biography of my letter’s addressee and some fun facts about the state they represent. 

The office of the Governor of Tennessee, Bill Lee, for example, sent me a promotional magazine of Tennessee, some stickers, a photograph of Lee, a state map and some other goodies. Likewise, the office of the Governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, sent me sheets of paper with information about Virginia, an activities booklet meant for young students, a “Virginia is for Lovers” sticker and pencil and a photograph of Youngkin. Despite both offices failing to answer my questions, though, I’m very appreciative of the packages they still sent.

Yet the most interesting letter I received was from the office of the Governor of South Carolina, Henry McMaster. Even though government and religion are supposed to be separate in America, the letter informed me to “stay involved with the people in your… church”, in addition to its respective projects. This particularly shocked me.

Nevertheless, I did receive a few exceptionally meaningful responses. Deputy Secretary of State, Brian P. McKeon, wrote to me that “You don’t need to have a title or hold a rank to find success, influence change, or represent the United States. [Instead, you need] to treat others with dignity and kindness.” I believe that those words are important for everyone to keep in mind.

Furthermore, when I wrote to my local senator, Cory Booker, a few weeks ago, irrespective of this project, I was delighted to receive an appropriate, timely response. I believe that elected officials have a responsibility to respond to both their constituents and non-constituents in a timely manner, just like Booker did. 

While some might argue that Booker responded to me faster because I’m his constituent, however, I’m also a constituent of Phil Murphy, the Governor of New Jersey, and have yet to hear back from him.  

The International Republican Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that advances freedom and democracy worldwide, writes that “for representative democracy to work, legislators need to be responsive to the concerns of [their] citizen[s].” And, if the responsiveness of legislators to their constituents measures the efficacy of representative democracy, there is definitely some room for improvement.