Sophomore political science major Tyler Knierim books his hotel room, packs up his stuff and drives off in his Cadillac, destination waiting. The destination could be Florida, Ohio, Maine or Colorado. No matter the place, Knierim’s goals are the same: meet a political figure or other person of note, visit a presidential library if possible and maybe stop by a historical site and haul home the photos to encapsulate it.
Knierim has traveled to 30 states and met with over 150 people of note, including senators, governors, entertainers, astronauts and four out of the five living presidents (the only one he has not met is President Barack Obama). Knierim said the first political figure he met was President Richard Nixon’s White House Counsel John Dean. Dean was speaking at Indiana State University as part of its Speaker Series. Knierim said that meeting Dean was what set off his trips.
Knierim, who said he has wanted to be a political science major his whole life, plans to travel to all 13 presidential libraries. He was told at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library that if he goes to all 13 libraries, he will win a prize, and he is excited to find out what it is. So far, he has been to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Missouri, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in Iowa, the George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Lyndon B. Johnson libraries in Texas. His recent trip was to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum on Sunday, Aug. 23, where he also met with President Carter for the sixth time in Plains, Ga.
This summer, Knierim traveled to Kennebunkport, Maine, where he saw President George H.W. Bush and National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. He then went to Michigan to see Governor Jeb Bush and Senator Ted Cruz. Next was Florida in June to meet Senator Roger Jepsen and Senator Marlow Cook. Knierim then went to Columbus, Ohio, to meet astronaut Harrison Schmitt, who was on Apollo 17’s crew. Knierim then stopped by Indianapolis to meet Senator Dan Coats, Senator Richard Lugar and Governor Mike Pence. In July, he met Governor Mike Huckabee, presidential candidate Ben Carson, Governor Martin O’Malley and Senator Lindsey Graham. In Cincinnati, Ohio, he also met actor Nick Offerman, best known for playing Ron Swanson on the television show “Parks and Recreation,” and then met Senator Rand Paul in Lexington, Ky. Knierim’s most recent trip was to Washington, D.C., to meet Congressman John Bayard Anderson on Aug. 24. Knierim said the education that comes with meeting these figures is the real prize.
“ … Being a political science major, what better way to learn about political science rather than meeting the people who were actually active pretty much all their lives and made history?” he asked. “I can’t think of a better way. There’s no class that’s going to give me a better understanding of how politics work rather than learning from the people who actually did it.”
Knierim said that sometimes he bases a trip around a person, and other times he bases it around the destination. Knierim receives newsletters that alert him of signings or visits from political figures and if the event takes place out of state, he plans a trip to go. However, if he or his family chooses a state to visit, he looks up who lives in that state. While some of his meetings are photo opportunities, Knierim does enjoy visiting people’s homes and having discussions with them. He usually arranges meetings at people’s houses by sending letters to them, he said. Knierim said meeting political figures and entertainers, whether in their homes or at public events, is a remarkable experience.
“It really is kind of surreal, because I’ve seen pictures of all these guys that I’ve met so many times. And to actually see them in real life … it’s really interesting,” he said.
Knierim said that the trips are gratifying because they are educational, but they also are a way to honor his late grandfather, who would travel with Knierim sometimes. He also loves learning about history from the primary sources.
“Meeting, for example, Marlow Cook, when he was telling me about his stories of the U.S.S. Analog, which was a boat that the city Louisville bought when he was the mayor of Louisville—I want stories like that,” Knierim said. “Those are inspiring and book worthy. Those are parts of history, and I mean, there’s no substitute for that in my opinion. It definitely furthers my ambition. My whole life, I’ve wanted to be a congressman. And to be a long-term congressman would be, I think, my dream job because there’s nothing greater in the world than helping other people.”
Knierim said he gains a lot of motivation and strives to emulate what he learns from those he meets.
“Meeting politicians kind of just enhances that drive in me to be the best,” he said. “Walter Cunningham, an Apollo 7 astronaut, said, ‘Always do your best, but the key is to do it better than anybody else.’ … Meeting the people who have been the best out of their class, that’s just enlightening.”