A few years ago, as a fresh young professor straight out of graduate school, I was excited to be arriving at my new job just as we it was hosting a presidential debate. One of my co-workers at my old job had made me promise to get one candidate’s autograph for her if I met him, and I’d made the same promise to my parents for the other.

To my disappointment, though, many of the events were restricted to students, and faculty were not eligible to participate in the raffle for debate tickets. It seemed that my sole memories of the debate would be the traffic snarls, the high-security cordon set up around the performing arts center, and the endless stream of news media personalities talking about the civil rights era as if nothing had happened at the university in the interim.

Then, a stroke of luck: one of my friends, who was a grad student with Health and Nutrition, told me that the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease needed volunteers to work the “Evening with Tom Brokaw” event in late September. The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease might just be the least objectionable, least controversial charity ever—who in their right mind is actually in favor of chronic disease?

Best of all, volunteers would get free tickets to the event if there were any left.

So I donned the provided purple-and-white Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease t-shirt, one size too small, and took up a plastic placard with the Partnership’s URL. I worked the Brokaw line in the muggy dusk, urging anyone who would listen (and many who wouldn’t) to Fight Chronic Disease and flashing the placard for good measure. Most people agreed that there was merit to Fighting Chronic Disease; a few even asked to get involved. All I could do, as a mercenary draftee volunteer, was lamely point them to the URL.

I like to think that peoples’ awareness was piqued, if not about the need to Fight Chronic Disease then at least about what Chronic Disease was (I explained several times the difference between chronic and acute diseases as best a former English major could). And my friends and I were given tickets to see Brokaw, still clad in purple-white and clutching placards. His talk was illuminating, and it was the closest I’d come to seeing someone of importance during the debate. Neither candidate cared to spend more than the minimum time necessary for the debate in town or to waste even one iota of their precious time meeting anyone from the community.

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