“I didn't run to make history,” Tammy Baldwin told a crowded room of supporters on election night in 2012. “I ran to make a difference.”
The class of 1984 alumna had just been elected to the U.S. Senate after serving seven terms in the House of Representatives. Her victory made her the first woman elected to represent Wisconsin in the Senate, and the first openly gay U.S. senator in history.
Hers is an accomplishment that would have seemed impossible a generation ago, but then again, Baldwin has made a career of ignoring “the naysayers, the cynics, and the keepers of the status quo.” This approach is manifested in the various causes she has championed throughout her time in Congress: healthcare for all Americans, equal pay for women, support for the elderly, and counteracting the threat of global climate change. At a time when politicians across the political spectrum are expressing their support for marriage equality, Baldwin continues to press for laws to end discrimination against the LGBT community. “We are on the right path,” she says. “But clearly we have far still to go.”
Working to solve seemingly insoluble problems has been at the top Baldwin’s agenda from the beginning. As she explained in her 2009 Commencement address at Smith College, “In the end, our greatest obligation isn’t to each other. It is to the generations of Americans and people all around the world who haven’t been born yet—the ones who will inhabit this planet long after we’re gone.”