Consider public service, attorney general urges students
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan: “Work on issues you care about.”
Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin
“You don’t have to be a lawyer to have a career in public service, and you don’t have to run for elective office,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan told students last Wednesday at Student Center East.
Madigan is, of course, a lawyer who has successfully run for elective office.
Her background is perhaps perfect for a public service career an option she urged UIC students to consider seriously.
The daughter of influential Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, she is this state’s first female attorney general.
Earning her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown and law degree from Loyola, she taught for a while, became a community organizer with a focus on education, then worked in private law practice. She made the move from her hometown Chicago to Springfield in 1998, first as a state senator, then in 2003 as attorney general.
In her speech sponsored by the Honors College, Madigan cited inspirational moments from her still-unfolding career that underscore and validate the path she chose.
It started while she was an undergraduate at Georgetown, where her proximity to Capitol Hill landed her a position as an aide to the late Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill. Madigan called it one of her “defining moments.”
“I found myself surrounded by this really engaging group of people who openly talked about trying to change the world,” she recalled.
“They had a commitment to always doing what was right, regardless of whether the issue was popular or would garner votes or was ‘sexy,’ so to speak.”
Her work with Simon and his interests in African affairs inspired Madigan to take a teaching assignment in South Africa at a Catholic high school for Zulu girls.
With a degree in political science, she was assigned to teach courses in algebra, earth sciences, English and history, as well as coach the volleyball team and lead aerobics.
“My students were fabulous. They were engaged in their classes and in learning. And this was during apartheid. Nelson Mandela was still in prison.”
Madigan was inspired by the courage of her students, many of whom had relatives killed in the struggle to overthrow apartheid.
“In spite of these moral, political and social conditions, my students were still engaged and amazing examples and role models of what you can do and overcome when faced with incredible adversity,” she said.
“They understood the sacrifices their families made to get them a good education. They understood that getting an education was critical to their ability to improve their lives, help their families and ultimately to liberate the country.”
Upon returning to Chicago, Madigan worked on a Wright College-Chicago Police after-school program for kids living in Austin to keep them off the streets and away from gangs.
Madigan figured a law degree would bolster her capabilities in public service. After leaving law school and working as a litigator, she ran for public office with no regrets.
“I have a tremendous opportunity to advocate for people on issues that matter to them and have a real impact on their lives,” she said.
Madigan urged UIC students to think about their own defining moments as they look ahead to careers.
“Take the time to reflect and seek out opportunities to work with good, moral, interesting people,” she advised. “And seek opportunities to work on issues you care about and are meaningful to you.”