MC junior elected TISL's Secretary of State

Maryville College junior elected Secretary of State at TISL

Jan. 21, 2020 

Dawson Hope ’21 has a greater interest in the reconvening of Tennessee’s 111th General Assembly than the typical college junior.

Hope, a political science major and accounting minor from Lenoir City, Tenn., recently participated in the Tennessee Intercollegiate Student Legislature (TISL) held at the state capitol and aspires to pursue a career in public service.

He’s building a strong foundation for that career, elected secretary of state for TISL’s 51st General Assembly, which will convene in November.

“It was wonderful,” Hope said of the election by his peers. “Standing in front of my peers, announcing my candidacy, was so natural; I had no butterflies. It seemed like I was talking to old friends.”

Indeed, as deputy secretary of state, Hope had gotten to know many of the 100-plus delegates who had traveled from colleges and universities across the state to serve as senators and representatives. Organized in 1966, TISL allows young adults an opportunity to “exchange ideas, express their opinions and learn how government works,” according to the organization’s website. Its four programs are patterned after the essential elements of public service – legislative, AMC3 (the Appellate Moot Court Collegiate Challenge), lobbying and media – and draw more than 500 participants.

“It’s a great experience in the nuts and bolts of how law and politics work,” said MC Associate Professor of History Dr. Aaron Astor, who advises and accompanies the College’s delegation to Nashville. “You’re literally in the chamber where this stuff happens, and I think it gives the students an appreciation for the process.”

Starting as deputy

Hope’s election likely wouldn’t have happened if not for seeing a post on social media from then-TISL Secretary of State Julia Williams over the summer in 2019. A Martin Methodist College student elected during TISL’S 49th General Assembly, Williams was looking for a deputy secretary of state and assistants to help with the November 2019 gathering.

Hope had served as a senator in Maryville College delegation the fall before and knew a little about the responsibilities of the secretary of state: managing the database through which delegates’ bills are submitted, assigning bill numbers and referring them to appropriate standing committees for consideration, sending approved bills to the TISL Senate or House of Representatives for more debate and voting.

“The secretary of state office is an integral piece of the organization,” he said. “I gave Julia’s post some consideration and contacted her about the application process.”

Eventually, Williams offered Hope the position of deputy, and he accepted. Days before the TISL assembly convened on Nov. 21, he was given access to the database software and began learning how to process bills. Arriving in Nashville, he realized that it was mostly he and Williams doing the work of what is typically shared among a staff of 10 students. They hit the ground running and rarely slowed down – even to eat.

“It was learn-as-you-go,” Hope said, adding that his Maryville College education had prepared him for the unexpected. “It was a situation that required effective communication, flexibility and being comfortable in a leadership role.”

Over the four-day assembly, Hope and Williams dealt with 172 bills. Not all were assigned to committees, but the secretary of state and her deputy processed them.

Hope’s greatest memory of the work in Nashville last fall was carrying a box of committee folders and several other important forms up the steps of the capitol building in the pouring rain. He used his suit jacket to waterproof the box and its contents but had no regrets.

“I was drenched and dried out about two hours later,” he said. “I took pride in my responsibility.”

Later that day, Williams nominated Hope for the position of secretary of state, and the MC student’s dedication was rewarded when delegates cast votes on Nov. 23, Astor said.

“Dawson demonstrated his fitness for the secretary of state position by working with the prior officer in helping make all of TISL run smoothly behind the scenes,” said the MC professor. “The delegates were already well familiar with Dawson’s fluency with parliamentary procedure and efficiency in managing TISL operations.”

The work ahead

TISL’s Executive Council has met already this year, and weekly conference calls to iron out the logistics of 51st General Assembly will begin soon. Delegates will start filing bills in September.

TISL participants are invited to a “Day on the Hill” gathering in the spring, when they can meet with state officials and watch the legislature in action. Hope isn’t sure if other MC students will make the trip this year, but as a member of TISL’s Executive Council, he is required to attend. He said he is looking forward to it – and to a career in politics.

“When I was in the eighth grade, I went on a school trip to Washington, D.C., and that’s when I fell in love with the idea of public service for the rest of my life,” he said. “I want to build a foundation for that, starting at home and building on the local level.”

More immediately, Hope’s goals for 2020 include recruiting more students to assist in the work of the secretary of state and ensuring that TISL’s 51st General Assembly runs as smoothly as possible. He also wants to identify and prepare a successor for the job.

“All of that preparation lies on the shoulders of every member of TISL’s Executive Council,” he said of the months ahead, “but I’m not concerned. I love keeping busy.”

He also loves the spirit of TISL.

“It’s not a partisan group,” he said. “Though as a Democrat, I fully understand that we all come from different backgrounds. We come together and talk through the issues like we’re supposed to. I wish our Congress and state legislature could function in that same smooth, organic way."

“But I have hope in my generation picking up the torch and becoming the leaders that our local, state and national communities need.”

Written by Karen Beaty Eldridge '94, Executive Director for Marketing & Communications


Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”