Growing up in various countries overseas, Peter Fitzgerald ’23 considered northern Michigan to be home base. Now a series of political internships have helped the Kalamazoo College senior connect more with his adopted home and envision a possible future.
With a dad who was a Foreign Services officer, Fitzgerald was born in Australia, and his parents now live in the Washington, D.C., area. In between, they lived in Denmark, Ukraine, Morocco and Belgium.
Every summer, however, he would spend with his grandparents in northern Michigan. His mom and cousins would stay there, too.
“We moved around so much,” Fitzgerald said. “That was a place to call home. In relation to other Foreign Service kids, it was unusual to have that kind of stability. I was always grateful to have that place that didn’t change.”
That sense of Michigan as home, combined with both a cousin and a Foreign Services acquaintance attending K and a K representative visiting Fitzgerald’s Belgium high school, made K the only school Fitzgerald even considered attending. After taking a gap year in Belgium, he started at K in fall 2019.
Fitzgerald is a double major in history and political science. He is also working on a minor in music and a concentration in American studies. The K-Plan’s open curriculum has made it possible for him to explore a variety of interests and discover new ones.
“I knew that I loved political science,” Fitzgerald said. “I didn’t really plan on doing another major besides that, and then I took a history course with Dr. Boyer Lewis and I just loved it.”
He plays classical guitar and has sung in the choir, filled a leadership role in the College Democrats, and has played tennis all four years at K.
“I feel that having those interests and having a lot of leeway in what courses you take connects you to a lot more of the school than you otherwise would have the opportunity to experience,” Fitzgerald said.
At the beginning of winter term his first year, Fitzgerald was on Handshake looking for opportunities outside campus when he came across internships in Democrat Jon Hoadley’s 2020 U.S. House campaign for Michigan’s 6th congressional district, which includes Kalamazoo.
“I was curious if there was something I could do, along with my academics, to get to know the Kalamazoo area better,” Fitzgerald said.
He worked on Hoadley’s campaign, primarily making phone calls and canvassing, for about two months before the COVID-19 shutdown sent him to his parents in D.C.
“It was rewarding getting a start in the political world,” Fitzgerald said.
It was rewarding enough that when summer 2021 rolled around, Fitzgerald sought out another political internship, this time with Darrin Camilleri ’14, a member of the Michigan House of Representatives, representing District 23, south of Detroit.
Come summer 2022, Fitzgerald applied via Handshake for an internship with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office. He took advantage of K connections, reaching out to Christopher Yates ’83, who also played tennis at K and was recently appointed a Court of Appeals judge by Whitmer, to ask if Yates had any connections within the campaign. Within a couple days, Fitzgerald was contacted for an interview, and soon after that, he was in Detroit working for the governor’s office for three months.
This internship involved a lot of planning, coordinating and logistics for small business stops, community events and constituency groups, such as Native Americans for Whitmer.
“I would reach out to the small business owner, or whoever, make a plan, promote it and get people to attend,” Fitzgerald said. “We would drive to these events, two and a half, three hours, for a 15-minute visit with the governor. It wasn’t glamorous a lot of the time, but it felt really important, meaningful and worthwhile. It felt like we were making a difference.”
The internships have affirmed Fitzgerald’s interest in political work, perhaps with the State Department, and helped him envision some of the possibilities that lie along that path.
“I learned a lot,” Fitzgerald said. “I met a lot of people who could probably make more money doing other jobs, but they’re working for something that they believe in fundamentally. I felt like I had a relationship with Michigan, from spending my summers here growing up, but this job opened my eyes to people’s lives that I wouldn’t normally have interacted with. I still think I’m on a path where I’d like to work for the federal government, but also, I can see that people’s issues are really localized. People care about what’s in front of them.”
Working for the governor’s office was both humbling and uplifting for Fitzgerald.
“People have come up to me and asked me about issues in Michigan thinking that I had power over policy issues,” he said. “Even though I couldn’t do anything, just to be able to listen to people and share with someone who had that power felt really meaningful.”
The internships also helped Fitzgerald draw connections between coursework and real life.
“It makes an experience a lot more meaningful when you are able to make connections,” Fitzgerald said. “Whether it was from my American history course or my political science course, there were pertinent things I could draw from in relation to the issues we were talking about this summer. I am also bringing things I’ve done on this campaign back to K.”
Connections to people have also been key to Fitzgerald’s K experience. Networking and professional contact with alumni such as Camilleri and Yates, personal interest from President Jorge G. Gonzalez, academic inspiration from Professor of History and Director of the American Studies and the Women, Gender and Sexuality programs Charlene Boyer Lewis ’87, and guidance from men’s tennis Head Coach Mark Riley all combine to make K feel like a new home base for Fitzgerald.
“I think initially, I had some dissonance between knowing that I’m from here but never having lived really in the U.S.,” Fitzgerald said. “I felt out of my element for a time, but the people, my mentors and the friends that I have now, made it possible for me to feel like even though I did come with a different background, even though I felt maybe a little discombobulated at first, that there were people that I could rely on and who would support me.”