"Paying it Forward" in Oregon
"I have always considered my 25 years of practice as a clinical psychologist a form of ministry," says Oregon State Representative Bill Kennemer (PhD '75), explaining that it supported his goal to "make the world a bit better, one person or family at a time." Kennemer eventually felt drawn into a new way of making a difference and shifted from the sphere of psychology to that of public service. "Moving into politics seemed a logical extension," he says. "It was a way of taking that mission to the next level."
Serving in several different roles throughout his political career, Kennemer was an Oregon State Senator from 1987 to 1996, after which he served 12 years as a Clackamas County Commissioner. In 2008, he was elected to his current position of State Representative. However, Kennemer did not initially plan to pursue psychology or politics--in college he intended to go into pastoral ministry. While completing his undergraduate work he became interested in psychology, and later found Fuller to be "a high quality school that offered both" theological and psychological training.
Kennemer's desire to help his community, his state, and his country is deeply rooted in his past. His family's values taught him to be concerned for his neighbor, he shares, and to work to make the world a better place. And after his family lost their farmhouse to a fire when Kennemer was five years old, he witnessed the power of community firsthand--as neighbors came together to build his family a new house. Identifying this as a life-changing event that profoundly impacted his perspective and direction, Kennemer states that "Public service is my 'pay it forward.'"
While at Fuller, he read Edmund Burke's famous quote, "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men [sic] to do nothing," and found himself inspired. "While clearly not a saint myself," Kennemer remarks, "there is a need for people of faith to participate and make an impact in our increasingly secular nation." He has worked to make an impact particularly in the areas of child support enforcement, health care, and mental health treatment. For Kennemer, it is clear how his training at Fuller and his practice as a psychologist have equipped him in his current career. He points out that health care--especially mental health care--is a major topic in politics, and sees his expertise as providing the "added clout and critical background" needed to be an active contributor on these issues. Just as important, he finds his professional listening skills help with both his constituents and his colleagues.
Kennemer's strong theological and faith foundation has served him well as he represents his district. During legislative sessions, he joins a prayer group for House members. "The group is small, but it serves as an important anchor point and an aspiration reminder for me," he says. Kennemer finds value in all of the paths and experiences that have led him to his vocation today--from his upbringing to his time at Fuller to his 25 years as a practicing psychologist. "My faith, my training, and my educational experiences guide me as I make hard decisions that affect the lives of many people in the state of Oregon."