UNION, Maine — The kids at Union Elementary School may be too young to vote, but they were thrilled Tuesday afternoon to meet one of the country’s most influential politicians — and the feeling was mutual.
“I’m so happy to be with you today,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins told the fourth-graders before showing them a presentation on a day in the life of a senator. “I love [being a senator]. It’s a wonderful job. I have to work very hard, but I love it. I thought, and still think, that when I work for the people of Maine, I can make life better for them.”
Collins came to the school at the behest of fourth-grade teacher Donna Munro, who has angled for two years for the visit. While at the kindergarten through sixth grade school, the senator spoke to Munro’s class, read the picture book “Antlers Forever” to the second grade, and went from classroom to classroom to do a meet-and-greet with most of the other students.
“It’s a really good experience for them,” Munro said. “Anything like that opens their world to possibilities of what they could be.”
The fourth-graders raptly listened as Collins described some of the more exciting things she has done — including a visit to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and a trip to Antarctica with scientists from the University of Maine.
She used clear, simple language to explain governance to the children — and produced some photos of pop rock heartthrob Nick Jonas when she talked about congressional hearings. Jonas has juvenile diabetes and testified in June before Collins’ committee about the disease.
“Does anyone know who this guy is?” she asked, as hands flew up all around the classroom.
“Nick Jonas!” chorused the girls.
“Believe me, a lot more people wanted to have pictures with him than with me,” Collins said. “A lot more.”
During her stop at the elementary school, the senator emphasized the importance of reading — and of dreaming big.
“When I was your age, I had no idea I was going to be a United States senator one day,” she told the second-grade pupils.
When she was growing up in Caribou, Collins said, her early ambitions fluctuated — she wanted to be a ballerina, a school librarian and a dentist, she confided.
“No matter what you want to be, if you believe in yourself and work hard, you can be it,” Collins said. “Maybe one day, one of you will replace me in the United States Senate.”
After the senator left, the fourth-graders talked a little about what they’d learned during her visit.
“I didn’t know that she helped with people who have those diseases,” said Noah Munn, 9, of Union.
Acadia Calderwood, 8, said that she felt a certain kinship with the senator.
“She reads a lot of books, and I like to read a lot,” she said.
Munro asked the class what they thought of the visit.
“Awesome,” the kids said in ragged unison.
“It was worth the wait,” Munro said.