A mother of three and former sixth-grade teacher at Sarah Winnemucca Elementary School in Reno, Nevada, Tierney Cahill did not expect to become politically active. Her expectations changed teaching her students a simple civics lesson on how elections and the government work. When she told her students that any American can run for political office they disagreed, and saying they didn’t believe “normal” Americans could be legitimate candidates. They challenged her to prove that ordinary Americans can run for office, and in order to inspire her students, she dedicated herself to running for the District 2 Congressional seat.
Cahill ran as a Democrat, and to her surprise, beat the other Democratic candidates to take on Republican incumbent Jim Gibbons. While she did not have a lot of money for her campaign, she threw herself whole-heartedly into the race, talking about the important issues – education, mental health, and nuclear waste. In spite of the vast difference in campaign budgets between Cahill and Gibbons ($7,000 to $320,000), Cahill received an unexpected 34% of the vote. Although she lost, she succeeded in teaching her students the value of civic duty. On the night of the election, with her students in tears by her side, she said, “Think about why we did this and what we did. Can an everyday American run for office? Yes. We have lots to be proud of.”
Cahill’s story is the subject of the film, Class Act, starring Halle Berry and written and directed by Doug Atchison. Her personal memoir, Ms. Cahill for Congress, was published in 2008 by Random House. She has also been featured in the nationally-published book, Teachers: The Enlightened, the Exceptional, the Extraordinary. Her story is a true inspiration – not only showing the value of education and civic duty, but because it shows that one person can change the lives of others. She currently teaches American Government and World History at Damonte Ranch High School. She tours the country speaking at universities and for school districts. She is highly energetic, humorous, and motivating, and has made a true impact on the world of education.