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Q&A: Sen. Cory Booker ’91 M.A. ’92 shares advice on being a change-maker

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Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) ’91 M.A. ’92 returned to campus on Friday for the Stanford Alumni Reunion. Booker, a former political science and sociology student, played football for Stanford, ran the Bridge Peer Counseling Center and was a columnist for The Daily. Since his election to the U.S. Senate in 2013, he has helped craft legislation related to criminal justice reform, advocated for progressive economic policy and fought for the protection of the Affordable Care Act. 

At the reunion, Booker spoke at a panel hosted by the Stanford Center for Racial Justice, titled “Rethinking Race, Dismantling Racism, Furthering Justice.” The panel was moderated by co-founder and Faculty Director of the Stanford Center for Racial Justice Rick Banks ’87 M.A. ’87 and Executive Director of the Stanford Center for Racial Justice George Brown. They engaged the Senator and panelists in a conversation about the realities of being a person of color in the U.S. and ways to reframe the societal mindset regarding race. The panelists also shared moments that informed their perspectives on equality and justice and led them to become agents of change.

After the event, The Daily asked Booker about his time at Stanford and his advice for students on being change-makers at Stanford and beyond. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

The Stanford Daily [TSD]: How has your Stanford experience prepared you for life after graduating, and how has it fallen short, if at all?

Cory Booker [CB]: Stanford is a big part of the foundation on which I stand. The lessons I learned here and the diversity of experiences — from the football field to the peer counseling center to my first elected office running for president of my class — all those things were invaluable, but most importantly, the relationships I have. I still have some of my dearest friends from my Stanford years. 

I don’t know about falling short, frankly. This is one of the organizations in my life where the more I’ve tried to give back to it, the greater the deficit seems to be.

TSD: What can students do to bridge the inequalities that exist in society, both within Stanford and beyond?

CB: As a college student, don’t necessarily ask a middle-aged person to tell you how to be an activist. Every generation seems to be so creative in finding new ways to push change, so go within yourself and ask yourself that question. In many ways, if you want to make change, you have to be the change agent through your imagination and through your ability to envision a different future.

TSD: What advice would you give to current students on maximizing their experience at Stanford?

CB: Get out of your comfort zone as much as possible — your comfort zone in the circles you hang out, your comfort zone in the classes you take, your comfort zone in your extracurricular activities, your comfort zone in where you go on vacation. The more you get out of your comfort zone, the more you’re going to grow.

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Ila Mathur writes for The Daily's News section. Contact Ila at news 'at' stanforddaily.com.