Westover Honors Fellow and former U.S. Senate Page Kyle Thaller ’25, a political science major and international relations minor, has been invited to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University Annual Meeting at Vanderbilt University in Nashville from March 3-5.
A branch of the Clinton Foundation, CGI U sponsors undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students who are undertaking projects with national and global implications. Students are selected after a competitive application and interview process.
“I first found out about the Clinton Global Initiative University when looking at student leadership conferences I could attend for networking and expanding my organization,” said Thaller, a Gainesville, Virginia, native.
At the conference, Thaller will receive training, mentorship, and potentially funding for his Row4Life Global Diversity Initiative.
Row4Life is a student-led organization that “aims to promote global diversity and global leadership through student-led diversity clubs across universities in the U.S., with rowing as the vehicle for that promotion,” Thaller explained.
“This [initiative] aligns perfectly, as CGI U … aims to sponsor undergraduate student projects that have the potential to positively impact communities, nations, and the world in a positive way.”
At the conference, Thaller will attend various sessions featuring prominent speakers in politics, business, nonprofits, and advocacy, including President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, and others.
But that’s not the most intriguing part of the event for Thaller.
“I’m most excited [to interact] with the 1,000 other [attendees] who are putting forth their own commitments to action to change the world,” he said.
For the next year, Thaller added, he also will receive mentoring from experts in his field of advocacy to ensure he has the “necessary tools and skills to fulfill my commitment to action.”
Thaller said he has a “lifelong passion for service,” as evidenced by Row4Life and another humanitarian organization he started while in high school, Kyle’s Campaigns for Change.
Row4Life focuses exclusively on South Sudan, for the time being, while KCC also includes Sudan. Thaller has visited both countries previously with his father, who spent time in South Sudan working on his PhD in conflict resolution while also advising the government there on peace measures to create a more unified government in 2011.
While service has been a big focus for his family, it was personal hardship that sparked Thaller’s motivation to start his own charity: He was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes in April 2015.
“My world changed in an instant,” said Thaller, who had been dreaming of becoming a U.S. Navy SEAL.
Thinking his dreams were over, Thaller quickly changed course. “I figured out that I could still be a leader and make a difference,” he said.
Thaller founded KCC and eventually Row4Life. He served as a U.S. Senate page and enrolled at the University of Lynchburg, which is also the alma mater of his mother (Class of 1990) and older brother Josh (Class of 2013).
“The University’s social sciences program has been especially helpful in giving me additional perspectives on global affairs so as to be a more effective changemaker,” said Thaller, who is also a Bonner Leader.
The Bonner Leader Program, he added, “has helped me learn more about what it truly means to serve others through community engagement and interaction with other students who value public service and making a difference.”
His studies and service activities were enhanced further by his participation in the Westover Honors College, which challenged him “to be a more creative and innovative leader through its curriculum emphasizing diversity and sustainability.”
Eventually, Thaller plans to run for public office. This summer, the sophomore is returning to South Sudan for an internship with the Ministry of Federal Affairs.
“My overarching ambition is to one day serve as a U.S. senator to forge bipartisanship, promote global diversity, and change the world for the better,” he said.