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Aura Dunn: Use your voice to make a difference

A Letter to the Class of 2022

By Aura Dunn, June 20 2022 9:07 am


In my childhood home, there was an underlying tension beneath the silence following my father’s war service in Vietnam. After my parents separated and my siblings and I moved in with my father, I remember quietly paying for the family’s groceries with food stamps. I didn’t want anyone to know, so it is not something we spoke about.

Breaking the code of silence in my life was important, not just for me, but also others.

One of my proudest accomplishments from my time on Capitol Hill was my work on the Campus Crime Disclosure Act, better known as the Clery Act. It is named for a young college student, Jeanne Clery, who was raped and murdered in her university campus residence hall in 1986.

The landmark legislation requires colleges and universities to issue on-campus crime statistics and security information, which was kept in the dark for far too long. The act was signed into law in 1990 and has since given prospective students and families a clear window into the safety of college campuses.

This isn’t a PSA about walking in groups, watching your drinks at parties or locking your doors. It is about the profound impact that just one piece of legislation can have on a nation.

I feel honored to continue this work as a lawmaker in the New Jersey General Assembly. I encourage you to go to the polls and elect people who you want to be your voice in government.

There is a power in your voice that you must never take for granted. Whether it was the sting of an insult or the advice of a teacher, you have experienced the weight that words can carry. We often bring our bullies and champions with us as we navigate and interact with the world. It serves as a constant reminder of how we should speak to others.

When I worked at “Sesame Street” and “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” we used Muppets to communicate with children, because we wanted to make a difference in their lives. We shared stories about love, tolerance and learning and it was received.

Simply shouting through a megaphone is not going to inspire change. Your message must be delivered at the right time and in the right way.

Learning to speak up for yourself is not necessarily a skill that can be taught, but it is often brought about by circumstances out of your control. These events shape who we are and teach us to be self-advocates.

Advocating for yourself will instill great confidence. And with that self-confidence, you can become an advocate for others. That is what changes lives.

If you have a passion for advocacy, consider running for public office. We need selfless and strong voices in government.

The biggest compliment I can receive as a legislator is that my constituents feel like they are with me when I’m in Trenton. I am their conduit to change. I can put their ideas into action. Public service is a great honor and responsibility, especially post-COVID.

COVID muted our time-honored traditions and gatherings, but you found a way to persevere through learning disruptions, canceled classes and social distancing to make it to graduation. These past two years have not been easy, but you can be assured in your ability and resilience to take on new and unfamiliar challenges.

You were given the opportunity to connect in innovative ways. To communicate effectively through different mediums. And you did it.

Now is a time for celebration and you’ve earned it. Make noise.

When the confetti has settled, don’t forget to register to vote or hesitate to call your legislator —and your mom! I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say.


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