Did you know U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy has a creative side? The Class of 2022 Commencement speaker picked up watercolor painting during the COVID-19 pandemic and has also dabbled with fashion design. She even dreamed of being an astronomer as a child. There’s much more to Murphy than what meets the eye.
In this Q&A conversation, Murphy lets us in on her many layers. She shares how her childhood shaped her, the best piece of advice she’s ever received, her passions for her family and country, how she often enjoys spending her free time, and more.
Q: If you were to describe yourself in only one word, what would that word be, and why?
A: I call myself a patriot because I love this country and feel duty-bound to help make her future even brighter than her past. I feel the burden of citizenship because I had to earn my citizenship and am so grateful for my citizenship. I still remember the day, as a young girl, when I raised my hand and took the naturalization oath, pledging to defend this country against enemies both foreign and domestic. I didn’t fully understand the oath at the time, but I sensed how meaningful it was.
Since then, I’ve had the honor of taking that oath of allegiance again, both as a civil servant at the Department of Defense and as the first Vietnamese American woman in Congress. I don’t take this oath lightly. I believe the future of our democracy depends on an active and engaged citizenry, and I’m committed to doing my part.
Q: Where did you grow up? How have your childhood and young adult experiences played a role in shaping you into who you are today?
A: I grew up in a trailer park in rural Virginia, in a community where I was one of two minorities in my elementary school. My childhood was happy, despite the challenges my parents faced. They worked multiple jobs and would take my brother and me to their second job, which was to clean office buildings.
As an adult, sometimes I’ll walk into a boardroom or a congressional hearing room, and I’ll be overcome thinking about my journey and how America made it all possible. This is a place where, in the span of one generation, you can change the course of your family’s life by working hard and playing by the rules.
It also motivates me because I think many Americans feel like the American Dream is no longer accessible to them. I feel the responsibility as an elected official to find ways to ensure that the American Dream is still within reach, irrespective of where people were born, their color or creed, or their socio-economic background.
“I feel the responsibility as an elected official to find ways to ensure that the American Dream is still within reach, irrespective of where people were born, their color or creed, or their socio-economic background.”
– U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy
Q: What is your proudest accomplishment?
A: Becoming a U.S. citizen and being able to live my version of the American Dream by becoming the first Vietnamese American woman elected to Congress. It’s a reflection of the opportunities that America offers its people.
You can come here from wherever and under whatever circumstances, work hard, play by the rules, and find yourself one day reflecting the great diversity of this country, and serving the American public as a foreign-born American, but no less of an American than anyone else who was born here.
Q: Did you always want to pursue a career in politics?
A: I never wanted to pursue a career in politics. There are things about politics that don’t suit my upbringing. As an Asian American girl, my immigrant family didn’t really encourage me to express an opinion or to stick out in a crowd, or to be involved in protests or any political activities. Instead, I was encouraged to focus on my education, keep my head down, and work hard. So, entering politics, and being forced to talk about myself all the time, was a major adjustment.
As a child, I was obsessed with outer space, new frontiers, and the concept of infinity, and so I really wanted to be an astronomer. With commercial space growing, maybe there’s still time!
Q: What’s something that not many people know about you?
A: I have a creative, artistic side. I picked up watercolor painting during the pandemic. I’ve also learned how to do some fashion design, creating a pair of patented women’s softball pants for my husband’s sports apparel company. I took my obsession with fashion and physical fitness and combined it with creative thinking, to create a pair of softball pants that would fit women of all shapes and sizes. I’m one of only a few members of Congress to have a patent.
Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
A: Fishing, painting, and reading—and spending time with my kids. I’m an avid angler. I pride myself in having had “fishing elbow,” which means that I’ve managed to reel in enough big fish to create an injury. I really like fishing because when I was a kid, my family didn’t have much of anything, but my dad saved enough money to buy a boat and a little motor. On his days off, we’d go fishing and bring friends with us.
I spent most of my childhood on the water with a fishing rod in my hand. When I think about my happy place when I was a kid, it was on the water with my dad—so I enjoy doing that now with my kids, taking them off shore without access to the Internet.
Q: What are you most passionate about?
A: I’m passionate about my family and my country. I love my kids and my family, and I’m so excited about their potential. And, I’m passionate about this country because of the opportunities it offers families like mine.
Q: What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A: My college graduation speaker was Brent Scowcroft, and he gave this incredible speech, which he ended by saying, “Public service is hard. Your life is scrutinized, you’re under a lot of pressure, but it’s a worthy endeavor because the future of our nation depends on the quality of people whose hands are on the helm of state.” And I will never forget that. I think it motivated me to get into public service, whether it was after 9/11, or after the Pulse nightclub shooting in my Orlando community, or at this present, perilous moment in our history.
Public service is hard, you make personal sacrifices, and you subject yourself to a lot of incoming fire. But, it’s so important because the future of our country lies in the hands of those willing to enter the arena.
Q: Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?
A: I’d like to have well-adjusted children who are on their way to being happy, successful adults. I’d also like to work on a number of projects that I feel passionate about—whether that’s in the business world, philanthropy, or politics—I’m hopeful that I can piece together a collage that continues to allow me to have a positive impact in my community, while also being present for my family.
Commencement for the Class of 2022 will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 14—rain or shine—on the Beachem Portico, the north side of Pennsylvania Hall. For more information about Commencement for the Class of 2022, please refer to the Commencement website. It will be updated frequently in the weeks leading up to the ceremony.
By Molly Foster
Photos courtesy of U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy