A fourth-generation Texan, Beto O’Rourke is widely considered to be the new star of the Texas Democratic Party – a celebrity candidate who is often trailed by dozens of journalists, was photographed by Annie Leibovitz, and is accustomed to hearing comparisons between him and Barack Obama. A three-term Democratic congressman who grew up along the Texas-Mexico border, O’Rourke, 49, began his political career in 2005 when he was elected to the El Paso City Council. After working his way up to the U.S. House of Representatives, he lost the Texas U.S Senate Race to incumbent Ted Cruz in 2018. However, during the race, he received the most votes for a Democrat in Texan electoral history, and racked up $80 million in donations, making the campaign the highest-funded in modern senatorial history.
With the attention he gained from almost defeating a Republican in a traditionally deeply red state, O'Rourke burst into the national spotlight by announcing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 presidential election. He eventually withdrew, but his fans were delighted to hear that he'd join Texas' 2022 gubernatorial race, where he is currently challenging incumbent Governor Greg Abbott. On top of politics, O'Rourke's career experience includes co-founding the IT consulting company Stanton Street; working as an art mover; a musician in a punk rock band; a nanny; and a proofreader with publisher H.W. Wilson Company.
O'Rourke attended Columbia University, where he learned how to balance different social worlds. On the one hand, he was part of a group of scruffy-looking friends who skateboarded in the dorms and played punk rock music – during the summers his band, Foss, toured all over North America. On the other hand, he was a dedicated athlete. In his junior year, he co-captained Columbia's heavyweight rowing crew, which meant, "hauling people's asses out of bed" in the early morning. According to Katherine Raymond, a college girlfriend, he stood out because, "It was surprising to me that someone who was creative and sort of a nonconformist was involved in this super-organized, rigorous discipline of rowing." Academics were also a priority for O'Rourke, who graduated in 1995 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature.
By 2019, O'Rourke felt it was time for him to return to his alma mater, where he spoke to students about his life as a public servant. The event was moderated by Columbia's President, Lee C. Bollinger, and the College Dean, James J. Valentini. After O’Rourke’s opening remarks, he started a dialogue with the students, which included a question about the influence his Columbia degree has had on his career and the most important things he learned: "As an English major, the power of storytelling, the ability to listen to those in the classroom share what their perspective is on that story, what they found exciting and moving, or problematic, in the story that we all just read."