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Homeschool Grad Redefining “Politician”: An Interview with Jennifer Sullivan

August 14–18, 2017   |   Vol. 131, Week 11
Previously aired:   July 18–22, 2016   |   Vol. 127, Week 11

No one thought 23-year-old homeschool grad Jennifer Sullivan had much of a chance at getting elected to the Florida House of Representatives. But that didn’t stop her from running for office—and winning. Hear how Jennifer did it on today’s Homeschool Heartbeat.

In this podcast, you’ll hear:

  • What Jennifer’s homeschooling experience was like
  • The amazing story of how Jennifer won her election
  • How Jennifer’s homeschool education prepared her for being a state representative
  • How Jennifer is redefining the word “politician”
  • Where Jennifer plans to go from here

“Knowing what I believe—and why I believe what I believe—really came to benefit when running for office.”—Jennifer Sullivan

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It’s not too often you hear about a 23-year-old getting elected to political office. But that’s exactly what homeschool grad Jennifer Sullivan did. Tune in to hear from this state representative as she talks with Mike Smith on this week’s Homeschool Heartbeat.

Mike Smith: I’m joined today by Representative Jennifer Sullivan. Jennifer is a homeschool graduate and she now serves as a representative in the Florida legislature, where she’s been since 2014. Jennifer, it is great to have you on the program.

Jennifer Sullivan: Well, thank you so much for having me on the program. It’s certainly a blessing to get the opportunity to speak with you today.

French cooking and field trips [0:38]

Mike: Jennifer, why did your parents decide to homeschool you?

Jennifer: I’m so very grateful to the Lord that I’ve really had an incredible homeschool experience. And I think at the heart of that was just my parent’s desire to just be sensitive to the Lord’s leading. And the Lord leads differently in everyone’s life, but I know for my mom specifically that the Lord had laid on her heart that he had given her these children and it was her responsibility to care for them and raise them up and to train them to be God-fearing individuals. Our verse for our family was “To virtue and knowledge,” and the emphasis of just making sure that you’re growing in your relationship with the Lord and to that, then, adding the academic knowledge to be equipped to use to further the kingdom.

Mike: Jennifer, what are some of your favorite memories from your homeschooling?

Jennifer: I think some of my favorite memories were when I was younger and I had three younger siblings and so we used a curriculum at that time that was called Five in a Row. And it was a unit study and so it would start with a book that we would work through. And then the history and the science and other elements of our education—even math—would be pulled out of that one book and we would do unit studies on it. So for example one was [on] Paris, France, and so we read the book Madeline and we had cooking experiments. We never got to travel to France for that one, but there were some local places we would travel to. And also when we studied just the founding of our country and then we got to go up and do a field trip to Washington D.C. and Jamestown and some of those different historical areas, and really let that history come to life—I think [those] were some of the most meaningful times.

Moving mountains [2:20]

Mike Smith: Jennifer, you decided to run for elected office when you were 21, and at 23 you were successful. Now tell us how you made the decision and how your election played out?

Jennifer: Well, it was at a time in my life where I really came to a crossroads and had a decision where the Lord had opened the door for me to run or to go on and have a really neat opportunity to work for a non-profit at their national office. And I had been very involved in local politics and had hoped to run for office one day but really didn’t in my own heart, selfishly, didn’t want to run at the age of 21. That just seemed really young—I wanted more experience, I wanted to finish school. And really it was a means of me coming to the end of myself and saying, “You know, Lord, I don’t want what I want, I want what you want for me. I want to be about your kingdom business, and if you’re calling me to run, I want to be obedient to that and faithful in that you are able to move mountains.”

And move mountains is what He did. It was a five-way primary race, we were outspent considerably but we had an incredible army of volunteers and you know what, if the Lord is for you, who can be against you? And we ended up winning that race and I think because it was a race that was so unexpected that we won, God was able to get so much more glory, because clearly without his favor and his guidance along the way it would have never been possible at my age.

A solid foundation [3:37]

Mike Smith: Jennifer, what are the biggest lessons that you learned from your homeschooling experience, and how do they affect the work you are doing now as a state representative?

Jennifer: I think some of the biggest lessons I learned really came from the flexibility that being homeschooled afforded me. I was in 4-H for nine years and I was in TeenPact leadership school for six or seven years. And those extracurricular activities where I was able to grow my leadership abilities, learn what servant leadership was, come to understand the role of government, and volunteer on campaigns—I think all of those things, along with having an education system that was based on a Christian worldview and really grounding me and knowing what I believe and why I believe what I believe, really came to benefit when running for office.

Mike: Tell us about some of the things you’ve been able to accomplish in the legislature.

Jennifer: One of the things I’m most proud of is my 24-hour reflection bill. So those seeking to have an abortion now in the state of Florida have the opportunity to not only have a face-to-face consultation with the doctor that will be performing the procedure, but then have 24 hours that they get to reflect upon that [and] seek guidance—whether that’s from their parents, mentors, friends, other doctors. And then after they’ve waited those 24 hours can then proceed or have the opportunity to change their mind. Already, I know of several lives that have come into this world because those women had a few extra hours to think about just the weight of that decision.

And so that’s probably the one I’m most proud of, but [I] also have worked on a lot of legislation to cut red tape with small businesses, and lower taxes, and create a better, stronger environment for families to grow and thrive in the state of Florida.

Not your average politician [5:19]

Mike Smith: Jennifer, what are some of the biggest challenges that you’ve had to face as a state representative?

Jennifer: I think one of the biggest challenges I face is the idea that when you’re elected, overnight, the way people treat you completely changes. You are no longer a person—you’re a title. And with that title you have an opportunity to affect so many lives, and just being a good steward of that opportunity while at the same time having a really solid support system is so crucial because though we do have a lot of elected officials that are corrupt and give politics a bad rap—I understand that—there are others like myself who are in it to do the right thing. And so when you constantly get put in that same group, it can just really wear on you. And I think that was something I just wasn’t expecting: being someone who is really trying to be principled and tell the truth, but yet oftentimes get called out as if I’m not. And that’s certainly been a challenge.

Mike: What are some of the most memorable experiences you’ve had so far in the Florida house?

Jennifer: I think one of the most memorable experiences was just walking in the day that I was sworn in. Having been in the house chamber so many times for different leadership opportunities and mock legislatures, when you walk in there for the first time and see your name on the board, and you’re there with your family, and you’re taking the oath of office, there’s just something that is unforgettable about that. Such a huge responsibility, such an honor. And I think to be able to be a part of such a unique group of people—diverse in their opinions and representation of the whole state—has been really neat, as well as just to learn about so many different industries in the state of Florida as a whole from a young age and to really become well versed in a number of different policy areas.

Looking ahead [7:04]

Mike Smith: Jennifer, what are your plans for the future? What do you hope to accomplish with your political career?

Jennifer: Great question! You know, my plans for the future are to be sensitive to the Lord’s leading and obedient no matter what the cost. And if that means that, Lord willing, he allows me to serve for the next six years in the Florida legislature, I would be honored to do so. If he calls me further to that, I hope I would have a heartbeat of obedience. If he also calls me to one day be a wife and a mom and get to raise a godly family, I would love that as well. I don’t know what the future holds but I know it’s going to be one that requires faith and a heartbeat of obedience and so that is certainly my desire.

While I’m here in the political realm, what do I hope to accomplish? I hope to be able to inspire and encourage Christians to get further involved in the process. You know, if truth leaves the building, if those who represent Christian principles and morality leave the sphere of influence, then we can’t be surprised that it looks like the world. We are called to be salt and light. And so that’s certainly a heartbeat and passion of mine, and I hope that I can represent the Lord well in this sphere of influence and encourage others to do the same.

Mike: Jennifer, that is a very inspiring story. Thanks so much for sharing it with us. I’m Mike Smith.

Jennifer SullivanPhoto of Jennifer Sullivan

Born and raised in Central Florida, Jennifer has been a devoted member of the conservative movement for years. Being homeschooled gave her the freedom to develop life skills which she applied to getting conservative elected at all levels of government in Central Florida and across the country, including our Congressman Daniel Webster.

Today, Jennifer is a member of the Lake County Republican Executive Committee and sits on the Executive Board. She has also served as a delegate for Lake County at Presidency 5, and earned a scholarship from Young America’s Foundation, a leading conservative education outfit for college student leaders. With her extensive grassroots involvement and leadership development skills, Jennifer at 23, became the youngest woman elected to the Florida Legislature. She serves her constituents in District 31 by championing the proven and timeless conservative principles in a new era of politics.

The oldest of four children, Jennifer lives in Mount Dora and is a member of St. Andrews Chapel. Outside of politics, Jennifer spent many years volunteering and serving our community through the 4-H Program, representing our community on the State Executive Board of 4-H and at national leadership conferences. In her spare time Jennifer enjoys the outdoors, kayaking, biking, deep sea fishing, camping, and hunting with her family.

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