Lauren Vidal didn’t begin her congressional internship thinking that the federal government would shut down and she, the lowly intern — free labor — would become an indispensable member of Florida Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart’s remaining staff, but that’s how things played out. “I was right in the middle of the action with the congressman, the chief of staff and the legislative director. It was exhilarating, seeing policy in action,” she remembers. “I’d see my congress- man having a conversation in the office with our legislative director. And then I’d see him on the floor of Congress, delivering his point of view and representing his constituents. It was so incredible to see both sides — and really inspiring.”
Being in the thick of things is somehow where Vidal, a management consulting senior minoring in the Hesburgh Program in Public Service, always seems to find herself. During her time at Notre Dame, she’s been very involved with the Center for the Homeless in South Bend, developing a youth leadership program for a revolving door of 7- to 16-year-olds. She also developed an ongoing partnership between the 29 residence halls on campus and 29 families that have graduated from the Center. And her experience in Washington motivated her to run — successfully — for this year’s student body president at Notre Dame.
One of the things she’s accomplished in her tenure is a re- vamping of the SafeWalk program on campus — which provides an escort to any student walking through campus after dark. Problem was, the service was inefficient and not well used. Vidal pored over the student government financials and found unused funds here and there that added up to $30,000. She and her ad- ministration invested in two GEM Cars (battery-operated Global Electric Motorcars) — basically enhanced golf carts, she says. In November, more than one thousand students used the service.
In an even more ambitious initiative, Vidal led the Campus Life Council in studying student stress and mental health, with recommendations to be presented to the Board of Trustees aimed at removing the stigma from mental health resources. “We will also be working with the University Health Services, University Counseling Center and the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being to discuss peer initiatives and how best to improve our programs and outreach,” she says.
Vidal is a Balfour-Hesburgh Scholar, an award given to 18 high-achieving students from historically underrepresented minorities on campus. She is first-generation Cuban-American from South Florida. Her parents were both born in Havana and came to the States as very young children. Both sets of her grandparents were professionals with their own businesses in Cuba, which they had to forfeit during the revolution. When they came to the United States, her grandmothers worked in sewing factories and her grandfathers had to start over from the ground up. “My parents have ingrained the idea of building your own opportunity,” she says. “I’ve seen that in practice my whole life. “‘Life isn’t going to hand you anything when you go to college.’
That’s what they told me when they left me here,” she says. “They said, ‘This is a beautiful school. We feel so happy to leave you here. But remember that this school isn’t going to hand you anything. You have to earn it.’ I’ve carried that with me through my years here. It’s been my guiding light. I have to make my own opportunities.”
Her parents’ motto is “Give more than you take.”
“I try to do that every day. Even if it’s small — helping someone with homework or supporting my friends at their sporting events — I’ve tried to be there for them and for my community,” she says.
Vidal, who graduates this May, hopes to go to law school in a few years. Her pie-in-the-sky career goal, she says, is to practice corporate law specializing in mergers and acquisitions. The advice she’s gotten from attorneys who are Notre Dame alums as well as attorneys from back home is to get a few years of work experience under her belt. “Going straight into school would be less ambiguous,” she says. “But I try to listen to the folks who know what they’re doing.”
Her goal in life is to have a lasting impact in whatever she chooses to pursue. “You can be successful, but you can also be successful with a purpose,” she says. “I think the true measurement of success is how you affect other people’s lives.”
Editor’s Note: In April, the Notre Dame Division of Student Affairs announced Lauren Vidal as the 2015 recipient of the Mike Russo Spirit Award. The award honors an outstanding undergraduate student who exemplifies the qualities for which former ND student-athlete Mike Russo was known, including service, personal character and striving to bring the best out of themselves and others.