Former New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno spoke at Linden High School as part of the district’s observation of Women’s History Month, telling students to get the best education they can, which will allow them to take risks. 

By Gary Miller

Former Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno told Linden High School students on Tuesday, March 27, to get the best education they can so they can take risks and take advantage of opportunities in life.

The speech to social studies and Navy Junior ROTC students was one of the highlights of Linden Public Schools’ observation of Women’s History Month.

Guadagno, who was the state’s first lieutenant governor when the position was created in 2009, walked the students through her life story and political career, highlighting some of the obstacles she faced as a woman. She also addressed some issues in the news today that affect students and schools.

Before Guadagno was lieutenant governor, she was the first female sheriff of Monmouth County, which broke the traditional mold.

“I don’t look like a sheriff, do I?” Guadagno said. “A sheriff isn’t blond-haired, wearing a skirt, with high heels. A sheriff has a 10-gallon hat, two Smith & Wessons on their hips, and a uniform, right? That’s what a lot of people thought when I ran for office. … I was told I couldn’t wear pink when I was campaigning. What? Why can’t I wear pink?”

She went on to say that her biggest obstacle to being a woman in government was that she was one of only a few.

“Policy is set by those sitting around the table, and there aren’t enough women sitting around the table,” said Guadagno, a Republican. “I was never a feminist until I got involved with politics. Thirty years as a lawyer and I never had a problem. We need more women involved, and people of color, and people of a different background. And I mean both parties. If you look at both parties in the state of New Jersey, look at who the bosses are: White males.”

Guadagno’s visit was arranged by Linden Councilman Peter Brown, who had gotten to know her during her time as lieutenant governor under Gov. Chris Christie, and the two had gotten to be friends despite coming from different political parties.

Guadagno’s speech was introduced by Superintendent Danny A. Robertozzi, who said the visit was a great opportunity for LHS students.

“During the month of March, we celebrate great accomplishments of our female leaders,” he said. “Lieutenant Governor Guadagno has a long list of achievements in New Jersey and sets a great example for our students, particularly the young women. I was happy they had the chance to hear her amazing speech and to ask her some very intelligent questions afterward.”

Linden Mayor Derek Armstead also spoke before Guadagno, reading a resolution from the City Council honoring her for her accomplishments. He and Brown also unveiled a sign highlighting Guadagno as a key figure for New Jersey during Women’s History Month.

four officials posing

Superintendent Danny A. Robertozzi, Mayor Derek Armstead, former Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Councilman Peter Brown, who is holding a sign honoring Guadagno for Women's History Month.

One of Guadagno’s key pieces of advice to the LHS students was that a great education can open the doors to opportunities down the road.

“I got the best education I could, so that later on, when I got opportunities to run for office, I could do it,” she said. “I didn’t have anything to lose. The worst thing that could happen to me if I ran for elective office and lost, was that I would go back to doing what I wanted to do in the first place, which was practice law.”

After her speech, Guadagno answered questions from the students. Two of the questions were about topics in the news recently that are of great importance to students.

One student asked about the nationwide student activism following the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

“I think it’s fabulous,” Guadagno answered. “It sends a loud message to those entrenched politicians who believe that the capitals of each one of their states, or of this country, belong to them. They don’t. Young people have reminded them of that. And that empowers young people, but it also reminds politicians that their positions are fleeting. And they should never forget that.”

Another question was about whether teachers should carry firearms in school.

“Teachers aren’t trained to carry guns in schools,” Guadagno said. “Resource officers and other officers are. Teachers have their hands full teaching. It’s just not a great idea in my opinion.”

At the close of her speech, Guadagno urged students to help others on their path to success.

“As leaders you have a responsibility,” Guadagno said. “I call it ‘reach as you rise.’ When you go home or back out into those hallways, find someone you can be the leader of. And I don’t mean to push around. I mean to grab behind you, and pull up with you. Let them know that you will be there for them.

“Reach back, and pay it forward by bringing somebody up with you.”