BELMONT – U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen spent an hour yesterday speaking with and fielding questions from the freshman class at Belmont High School.
Shaheen was greeted by the award-winning high school band when she arrived at the school and was taken aback and encouraged by the warmth of their welcome.
"Thank you very much," she said. "It was really nice to have that kind of greeting."
Shaheen began her hour by telling the students she remembered their principal, Dan Clary, and was there to give him his award when he was named vice principal of the year in 2010.
With the encouragement of their teachers, the students asked Shaheen questions about many of the topics and current events they had been studying in civics class that year.
Shaheen, a former teacher in Mississippi and in Dover, N.H., broke the ice by telling the students a little bit about herself and why she chose politics as a career.
She said her coming of age was during the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights and Women's movements in the 1960s and 1970s.
"The way to fix things were through the political system," she said.
She said she also taught school in Mississippi in 1970, the first year the schools were not segregated.
"At the time, Mississippi had no compulsory education," she told them. "What a difference it makes to have a good education."
Shaheen, a Democrat, came to New Hampshire with her husband who was from New Hampshire and began working on the Jimmy Carter's campaign. She said a speech he made on Law Day in 1974 inspired her to want to see him president.
One student asked her what her biggest struggles were when she was in high school. She said that her family moved around a lot when she was young and she was always the new person at the school.
"I found it difficult to meet new people and fit in," she said, asking if any of the students there were new to the school.
One student asked about her work in her Senate Committees. She named them – Foreign Affairs, Armed Forces, Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and Appropriations and explained a little bit about how important it was to serve in the Small Business Committee when 96 percent of New Hampshire employers are small-business people.
She explained about majority and minority parties and how she is the (minority) leader of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, explaining to them how they raise money to keep the agencies like the Coast Guard, the Border Patrol and Department of Immigration funded and operating.
One student asked her how she felt about renewing the Patriot Act. She said she didn't support the bulk collection of phone calls and email records and that the government should have a warrant before it can access that information.
But, she said, she does support monitoring people who pose a distinct threat to the United States. "It's very important," she said, noting the man, shot by police this week in Boston, who was working with ISIL on a plot to behead a police officer.
When asked, she told them her favorite politician in American history was Abraham Lincoln because he was willing to make so many sacrifices to keep the Union together. She also applauded him for setting up land-grant colleges – of which the University of New Hampshire is one – in the middle of the Civil War.
"We have to be visionary and expand our horizons," she said.
She was also asked about some of the most fun she's had while being either governor or senator. She said going to the top of Mount Washington during a blizzard was one of them as was getting to spend time in her home state talking to students like them.
Shaheen also spoke about her bill that would put a woman on the $20 bill.
She said she was supporting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president because it's time the United States has a woman for president.
When one of the teachers asked her about Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, she said she likes working with her and commended her on her knowledge of finance and banking. She noted the two were the only members of a club of women who beat Scott Brown for their respective Senate seats.
"He's the first man to be defeated for Senate in two different states by two different women," she said.
One of her more recent initiatives is a Global Count. She explained that in many countries, births are not recorded the way they are in the United States – especially female births – and not having these records leads to human trafficking.
When students asked her what they could do to become more involved, she told them to volunteer their time. She suggested visiting veterans, elderly people and when they get older joining organizations like AmeriCorps and City Year.