For people like me who want to “make a difference,” the allure of public service is clear: by exercising political power, we have the ability to change the world in positive ways. Lately, however, I’ve been struck by how limiting that view can be. We tend to not only overstate our ability to effect change but the value of that change. Perhaps more importantly, we can overlook the valuable contributions of others.
Who, then, are the real difference makers? As I think back over my life, the difference makers are in many instances teachers, like Mr. Lyde, who taught me to love U.S. history, Jody Heaps, who inspired me to practice public speaking, and Bruce Porter, who challenged the way I thought about government and political power. The difference makers are religious leaders who encouraged and inspired me. The most profound ‘difference maker’ of all? My mother, who taught me to look for the good in others and in the world, to aim high, and to live deliberately. It would be one thing if she had that influence only on her own children, but she had that effect on many as a confidant and friend.
This past Friday, we welcomed another difference maker to the floor of the Utah House of Representatives. Donato “Dominic” Raimondo, one of the so-called “lost boys of South Sudan.” Orphaned by war as a boy, he walked hundreds of miles to a refugee camp in Kenya. He languished there for many years before eventually punching a lucky ticket out of there to Utah, where he began to build a life here. In 2016, he became a U.S. Citizen–a moment of such significance to him that he took on a new name: Donato. Today, he’s working hard and going to college, and he recently became the proud father to a beautiful baby girl. Almost as soon as he arrived in the United States, he began making and selling traditional crafts at art fairs. Why? Because he wanted to raise money to build a school in his home town of Loudo.
He told me that it was one of the great honors of his life to lead the Pledge of Allegiance on the House floor, but in truth we were honored by his presence, because he’s a difference maker–a doer, a giver–his contributions no less valuable because they are made quietly and out of the spotlight.
In short, each of us can be a difference maker by simply acting within our sphere of influence–no matter how small or large–to make the world better for our time in it. When we offer a helping hand, give a friend a shoulder to cry on, mentor a young person, volunteer to serve in our community, choose to meet hostility with kindness, and in a myriad other ways help and encourage others, we make the kind of difference that matters most.