Tuesday, Sept. 4, Whitworth alumna Jena Lee Nardella gave the benediction at the National Democratic Convention in Charlotte, N.C. While students at Whitworth braced themselves for a new school year, Nardella prayed for a nation bracing itself for a new election cycle.
Jena Nardella graduated from Whitworth in 2004 with a degree in political science. Similar to many college students, her degree plans evolved over time.
“I had started out as a nursing major. It turns out, I pass out at the sight of blood,” Nardella said.
As her studies progressed, Nardella took a class with professor of political science Julia Stronks. Over time, Nardella’s knowledge about HIV/AIDS through the nursing program began to connect with her interest in political science.
Understanding the impact of HIV/AIDS on a global stage became a personal priority.
In fall 2003, Christian rock band Jars of Clay came to Spokane and put on a show at Whitworth. At the time, Jars of Clay had the dream of addressing the stark reality of HIV/AIDS in Africa.
“They were looking for someone to make it happen,” Nardella said.
Following graduation, Nardella transitioned into her role as founder and executive director of Blood:Water Mission, working to improve clean water and vital health care resources in Africa on a grassroots, localized level.
In May 2012, Jena Nardella returned as a speaker for Whitworth’s graduation ceremony.
Having a former Pirate in the place of a non-alum speaker makes a genuine difference to Whitworth graduates, registrar Beverley Kleeman said.
“It shows them what a graduate can do,” Kleeman said.
For soon-to-be graduates, hearing the success story of an alum is more likely to be relatable in comparison to a non-alum.
Among the many students in attendance sat former ASWU President Eric Fullerton. Fullerton received his bachelor’s degree in international studies that day.
“One of the most memorable parts of her speech was when she spoke about how we, as American students, are faced with a series of questions which seem to force us into living quickly by quickly,” Fullerton said. “By sitting myself down and really looking at what I am passionate about, and not falling into the quickly by quickly model, I realized that my passions had shifted, but that was OK.”
On Aug. 30, Jena Nardella received a call to speak on a much larger, less familiar platform: the National Democratic Convention.
“I was definitely surprised,” Nardella said. “I was called on Thursday to deliver the benediction on Tuesday.”
Rich Hoops is chairman of the board for Blood:Water Mission.
“This is an incredible honor for Jena to be invited to share her voice from this international platform,” said Hoops in his letter announcing Nardella’s invitation to the convention.
Though a political science major, Nardella had never been to a political convention before.
“I had the opportunity to represent the tens of thousands of people who work in nonprofits,” Nardella said.
Of course, as a leader in an organization that is fundamentally non-profit and non-partisan, Nardella said she must be careful of the connections she makes. Political involvement is generally limited advocating for the mission of Blood:Water Mission and to work with local communities in the different government structures in Africa.
This non-partisan stance carried over into Nardella’s prayer. Causing a degree of discussion from supporters and critics, Nardella prayed for President Barack Obama, governor Mitt Romney and for unification of the country during the election season before closing with the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.
Laryssa Lynch Staff Writer
Contact Laryssa Lynch at email@example.com