In and Out of the Political Spotlight
When employees take a personal day, they might sleep in, finish some errands, maybe go get a pedicure or that overdue oil change.
But if you’re Donald Stokes, you attend an inauguration.
At the start of January, the Donor Experience Officer at Endicott took a day off to return to the political spotlight, celebrating Mayor Joyce Craig’s two-year term at the Palace Theater in Manchester, N.H., where Stokes lives.
It was a homecoming, of sorts. Stokes interned under Craig while an undergraduate at St. Anselm College in Manchester. At the time, Craig had just launched her first bid for mayor of the city, and Stokes’ duties included “knocking on doors, making phone calls, organizing other volunteers” in a hard-fought election that showed him the major downside of politics—defeat.
“That was 2015,” he continued, “and we lost that campaign by 12 votes.”
As a swing state, what happens in New Hampshire has long been viewed as a bellwether for national politics, which is exactly what Stokes liked about it.
Born and raised in Newark, N.J., Stokes was always interested in the workings of government. At St. Benedict’s Prep, one of Stokes’ teachers recommended St. Anselm College for its immersive political opportunities and history of hosting presidential debates.
The college felt familiar to Stokes in all the right ways. It was a monastic campus like St. Benedict’s, so he understood the community and what it stood for, though he was especially drawn to the Institute of Politics—even if the New Hampshire weather was a damper.
“It hailed, it sleeted, and then the sun came up,” recalled Stokes.
At St. Anselm, Stokes worked with the on-campus Multicultural Center, getting involved with a diversity and inclusion task force and helping to hire the college’s first chief diversity officer.
He also took another internship—this time, in the New Hampshire legislature.
“That was a good training ground for me to help me in my career,” he said. “It was all about building relationships and learning how the state operates, and it served me well because I got to know all the state reps. And when it’s time to hire for their presidential campaign, they hire the guy with all the contacts.”
After graduation, Stokes—the guy with all the contacts—was there for Craig’s second mayoral bid. This time she won, becoming Manchester’s first female mayor in 2017.
Stokes became Craig’s director of community engagement events before pivoting into a role as deputy political director for Senator Cory Booker’s presidential run. When that ended, Stokes took a lobbyist job with the Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire union until he received a call from a friend working for Joe Biden.
“She asked me if I was interested in being the campaign’s political director for New Hampshire and I said, ‘Yes! It’s a presidential campaign!’ Who wouldn’t be interested in that?”
But with increasing political divisiveness and a pandemic on top, Stokes called it a “gruesome, hostile election.”
“We were doing things we never did before, like drive-thru events and car rallies,” he said. “It was really a different campaign, and then there were all the safety protocols we had to think about. It was tough.”
But it was also a dream come true.
“When I first entered politics, my boss asked me, ‘Where do you see yourself in 10 years?’” said Stokes, who was 21 at the time.
“I said, ‘I’ll be working on a presidential campaign in 10 years,’” he remembered. “But I worked on a presidential campaign when I was 24 going on 25—and usually people don’t hold those positions until their 30s, so it was really mind-boggling.”
After the 2020 election, however, Stokes found himself teetering on the cusp of burnout and seeking something different. “A state senator once told me, ‘Donald, there’s more to life than politics,’” he said.
At Endicott, “the work I do now is similar to politics,” he said. “It’s still about building and maintaining relationships with fellow alumni, parents, and friends of the College.”
But where does Stokes see himself 10 years from now?
“I do see myself running for something, not knowing what that is yet,” he mused. “I can’t really say where I’ll be, but I’m always going to be doing a job that helps people.”
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