Jacob Solis/ Nevada Sagebrush
Former Secretary of State speaks at a joint discussion with former Sen. Harry Reid. Kerry spoke about his time in office, dealing with North Korea and more.

In a discussion with former Nevada Senator Harry Reid at the University of Nevada, Reno, on Tuesday, former Secretary of State John Kerry defended students’ right to political action and recommended voters focus on climate change in the coming midterm elections.

Speaking to an audience of 850 students, professors, politicians and other community members at the Joe Crowley Student Union, Kerry referenced Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin’” and said younger generations have always had the power to enact change.

He said that change is happening now, referring to young protesters who are demanding gun control legislation in the wake of the Parkland school shooting.

“Shame on any adult who has the gall to challenge young people’s veracity or bonafides,” Kerry said. “They have a right to stand up after their classmates are slaughtered in a classroom.”

Reid, who was a senator from Nevada for 30 years and senate majority leader for eight years, applauded Kerry for being a young advocate for change in his own life after serving in the Vietnam War and later speaking out against the war.

Reid also said he and Kerry believe in the Second Amendment, but voters should shift their attention to issues like climate change before the coming midterm elections.

“Our existence depends on our doing something about focusing on climate change,” Reid said. “Not only for our children, our grandchildren but the very existence of our planet.”

A lifelong Democrat, Kerry served as a senator from Massachusetts for nearly three decades before being named secretary of state under President Barack Obama in 2013. At the State Department, he was instrumental in the Iran nuclear deal and a fervent advocate of the Paris Climate Agreement, both of which have been frequent targets of President Donald Trump.

Kerry was Reid’s guest at the inaugural Harry Reid Public Engagement Lecture, a planned biannual series hosted by UNR and the Office of the President. The topic of the discussion was “Bipartisanship and Public Service.”

The discussion, moderated by Associate Professor of History Hugh Shapiro, spanned various other topics from voter registration to gerrymandering, campaign finance and globalization.

Their remarks, especially about respecting students’ right to protest, struck a chord with UNR students like senior Kirsten Oleson, an international affairs major.

“I loved it,” Oleson said. “The fact that they even addressed [bipartisanship] right now is very important. Addressing it to call upon students to take action was an important step.”

Courtney Tobin and Grace Warner, freshman business majors, were two of the many students sitting in on the event for class credit, but they took away more than just an attendance grade.

“[Kerry and Reid] talked a lot about young people getting more involved and being the future and having more responsibility,” Warner said.

“It inspired me a lot to get more involved with politics and reaching out and standing up for what’s right,” Tobin added.

Before the discussion, UNR President Marc Johnson said he hoped the lecture series would add to the student experience at the university.

“To be able to expose our students to national and international leaders really expands the horizons and the perspectives that our students get to experience,” he said.

Johnson met with Reid in Las Vegas to decide on the first lecturer for the new series, and Kerry was invited because of his “tremendous policy impact but also a world impact having been secretary of state for four years.”

“We’re going to bring a speaker of this caliber to campus every other year and allow the students to hear first-hand from people who’ve had years and years of experience on the world scene,” Johnson said.

A speaker for the next event in 2020 has not yet been decided.

Ryan Suppe can be reached at rsuppe@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @salsuppe.