Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, a U.S. Navy captain and astronaut, spoke about the intersection of public service and faith at Town and Gown on Sunday evening.
The event was hosted by the USC Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life as the 14th annual Carmen and Louis Warschaw Distinguished Lecture. In attendance were local California politicians, including Congressman Ted Lieu of the 33rd District of California and the mayor of West Hollywood, John D’Amico.
The event began with a welcome by the co-director of the Casden Institute, Steve Ross, and an introduction to the speakers by the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences Dean Steve Kay.
“For more than a decade, this lecture series has allowed us to impart a message that politics is not necessarily separate from faith, and in fact, that the tenets of Judaism have in so many cases impelled great politicians to work even harder to create the change they believe is necessary,” Kay said.
Kelly, who was the commander on the final flight of the space shuttle Endeavor, spoke about the assassination attempt made on Giffords’ life on Jan. 8, 2011, while she was visiting constituents in Tucson, Arizona.
“When Gabby entered Congress in 2007, I thought I had the risky job. I’d flown 39 combat missions. I’d flown two flights into space already at that point in my career. But as it would turn out, Gabby is the one who would nearly lose her life serving her country,” Kelly said.
Giffords had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006, serving three terms as the representative of Arizona’s 8th District. She was the third woman in Arizona history to be elected to Congress. From the beginning of her career in the House, Giffords set her focus on illegal immigration and health care reform. After the attempted assassination, she officially resigned from office to focus on her recovery process.
Since the shooting, Giffords and Kelly have founded a political action committee, Americans for Responsible Solutions, in response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. The PAC supports gun control measures at the federal level.
Kay complimented the strength Giffords has demonstrated through her continued dedication to political reform.
“Congresswoman Giffords has chosen to make her own pain secondary to showing compassion for people who have been victims of gun violence and being proactive to protect those who may be in the future,” Kay said.
Though Gifford has recovered some of her ability to speak, write and walk since the shooting, it is still difficult for her to do so. At the end of her husband’s explanation of their journey through the recovery process, she briefly addressed the audience.
“It’s been a long, hard haul, but I’m getting better. I’m working hard on lots of therapy – speech therapy, physical therapy and yoga, too – but my spirits are strong as ever. I’m still fighting to make the world a better place,” Giffords said.
Community members, alumni and current students also attended the event. Jacob Lokshin, a freshman studying history and international relations who attended the lecture, was interested in the role Kelly has played in Giffords’ life and recovery.
“He’s a really interesting guy, and I was really fascinated by all of the things he’s done in his life, especially all the stuff about him in the military. It was really interesting to hear about him,in addition to the way he works with Gabrielle Giffords and obviously all that she’s accomplished,” Lokshin said.
Hearing Giffords speak also impacted Kealia Hudson, an undecided freshman.
“It was really inspiring when she came on. I teared up a little bit. I’m honestly still processing it,” Hudson said.