Last year, Jonathan Woodley ran for Denver City Council. He lost, but don’t think for one second that the defeat set him back. Instead, he almost immediately threw his hat in the ring again—this time as a candidate for Colorado House District 5.
“If you failed, learn from it, self-reflect, and don’t give up,” says Woodley, a sergeant in the Colorado Army National Guard who is now working on his second master’s degree at University College.
In fact, if there’s one word that describes, perhaps even defines, Woodley, it’s resilience.
Raised in New York and Florida before moving to Denver at age 21, Woodley learned early that life could be filled with hardship. The youngest of four children, he was 11 when his parents divorced after his mother came out as gay. It was the early 1990s, and he struggled to understand what was happening. “It made me question everything,” he says.
The split left his newly single-parent family wanting—for food, electricity, stability. He also struggled at school, wishing he could be just another happy-go-lucky kid. When he was 15, determined to make a better life for himself, Woodley wrote a “desperation letter” to the admissions office at a private out-of-state boarding school, stating, “My grades are bad, and I can’t afford your school, but I’m good at soccer. I’ll work harder than any other student at school because I have to.”
The school accepted him and Woodley’s journey of self-reliance began.
He worked in the restaurant industry for years, including while obtaining an online bachelor’s degree and then joining the U.S. Army at age 33. Self described as “very patriotic,” he earned an Army Commendation Medal for his 2016-17 service during deployment to the Middle East for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Spartan Shield. He joined the army, he says, out of a sense of duty as well as a way to give back.
When Woodley returned to the states from his deployments, “it felt like a culture shock.” He was troubled by the sense that “people took things for granted.” In the regions where he was stationed, homes were small, largely unfurnished, and without television, Internet, cell phones, and real sinks or toilets. Yet, “people were happy,” he emphasizes.
“It fascinated me that there was all this joy in a country that faced so many problems, and I wanted to know why.” That, he says, is the reason he decided to study people instead of business.
Woodley earned his MA in Global Community Engagement last November. “It has been very beneficial to how I conduct my politics or life in general,” he says, adding that his coursework and interactions with faculty and fellow students offered “another set of eyes and perspective”—albeit not always one that he agreed with. “I did push back in some of my classes,” he admits.
But that’s who Jonathan Woodley is. He doesn’t “settle” … which is why he just began his second master’s in Organizational Development this spring, why he will soon “graduate” from The Leadership Program of the Rockies class of 2020, why he will step in at a moment’s notice if called upon by the Colorado National Guard, and why he is laser-focused on his run for the Colorado legislature.
“My plea to any voter is to see me as a person and not a cog in an establishment,” he says. “I raise blood pressures with certain political party members because I’m honest, authentic, and genuine.”
In other words, just like in his University College classes, he doesn’t always agree but he always seeks to understand—a trait that he feels is essential if he is to ever achieve his dream job of serving in the U.S. senate.
“I’ve experienced hardships, and I know [how people] are feeling. If not, I know when to be empathetic.”
As a young boy, the primary influencer in Woodley’s life was his older sister. He says she taught him that he would need to hustle in order to achieve what he wanted in life. It’s obviously a lesson that he never forgot.
“I learned that nothing just comes to you by luck,” says Woodley. “In fact, I do not believe in luck.
“I don’t know where I’ll end up or what my future has in store, but I do know I have set myself up for success in whatever that is. Whatever the outcome, I’m grateful for the opportunity.”
This piece is a follow-up to Q&A with Global Community Engagement Student Jonathan P. Woodley. Read the Q&A blog to learn more about this resilient, dedicated student.