Writer, marathon runner, policy worker, facilitator of change—Laurel Hilbert has a wide range of titles that describe his passions. One title in particular made him an excellent choice to lead a recent symposium with students: Laurel Springs alumni.
Here he discusses how his unique experiences—including his time at LSS—has colored his life even while he lives in the dark as a blind individual.
Serving the Underserved
Laurel Hilbert knows what it’s like to be at a disadvantage. “My home country has been ravaged by civil war. My identity as a member of the LGBTQ community has political implications. Living life in the dark as a blind individual has allowed me to see how entire worlds are built by and for privileged individuals—often unbeknownst to them—to the detriment of people who are not like them.” However, instead of letting all of this stop him, he uses it to help drive change.
“Throughout my life’s work, I have been invigorated by the idea of effecting change through public policy. Specifically, the issues I am most passionate about are education, economic empowerment, and homelessness.” One day he plans on merging two of his passions by running “one marathon in each state to end homelessness and poverty one step at a time.”
Laurel was able to act on the issues as an International Outreach and Admission Assistant at Rennert International in New York City. He then went on to start A Dignified Home Children and Youth Services in San Francisco. “I knew that many of the local challenges I was trying to address required national solutions. So last year, I made the decision to pause my studies and move to Washington, D.C. to work in national politics.”
Moving on Up
This move to D.C. led Laurel to a Research Assistant position with the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Senior United States Senator from California. “I conduct research for legislative staff on a wide range of policy areas, from housing policy, education, child welfare, crime, immigration, nutrition, emerging contaminants, as well as water issues. I also draft policy memos, generate new policy ideas, and bring high priority issues to the attention of senior staff and the Senator.”
Laurel doesn’t simply research the issues, he engages with the people affected by listening to constituent calls and writing policy letters in response to their concerns. Naturally, being this close to the facts makes it easy for him to generate reports “to keep the Senator abreast of public sentiment on pressing issues. I also draft short public messages on behalf of the Senator that are read at large public events throughout the state of California.”
With all the messages he has to create and people he has to interact with, it’s helpful that he’s more than comfortable with both. “Writing is a personal forte…I adore alliteration. I [also] love meeting new people, including professional acquaintances and prospective partners. My mom was right when she said that I was never good at following the ‘don’t talk to strangers’ rule.”
The Educational Journey
Even though Laurel’s passion for change was sparked by personal experiences and “forces beyond my control that required me to navigate political systems for survival,” his family was able to make the choice to enroll in Laurel Springs. It’s one choice he continues to be grateful for today.
“In no school I have attended before Laurel Springs have I had the same level of care, support, and recognition I had at Laurel Springs. From day one, I felt welcomed by my teachers through the personalized introductions. When I struggled, there was always someone there. When I did well on an assignment, I received positive and encouraging feedback. I have the tendency to keep a document that I call Nice Things, where many of that feedback live[s].”
It’s evident all those “nice things” have stuck with him long after graduation. “While I have left Laurel Springs, Laurel Springs hasn’t left me. The words of care from all these teachers haven’t gone anywhere. They resonate as strongly as ever.”
Laurel’s educational journey continued at Berkeley College in NYC where he studied business management. Then it was on to City College of San Francisco to study social welfare before moving to D.C. to start his political career. “I am now in the process of applying to 14 schools, including nine Ivy League schools to study international affairs.”
Through all of the moves, title changes, and issues, Laurel still has Laurel Springs in his heart and mind. Taking the time to speak to students this month is one indication of that. Joining the LSS Alumni Connect networking platform to reconnect with other alumni and become a mentor is more proof of his dedication to helping others.