Santa Fe Alumnus Eschews, then Embraces, the Political Life

November 27, 2018 | By Anne Kniggendorf

John Gorczynski
John Chapa Gorczynski (SF05) is chief of staff for Senator Sylvia R. Garcia

John Chapa Gorczynski (SF05) has been surrounded by politics his entire life. His father, a judge, was an elected official in Texas, his mother served on Houston City Council, and Gorczynski himself now serves as chief of staff for Texas senator Sylvia Garcia. Growing up in a political household, though, Gorczynski’s goal was not always to get into the family business.

“I went to St. John’s to get away from politics,” he says with a laugh. “I thought I would get away from Texas and study something that was totally different—a purer intellectual pursuit rather than something that was based in a practical application and a trade.”

He had heard about St. John’s from his father, who studied there for two years before transferring and graduating from Rice University. What Gorczynski discovered as an undergraduate, however, was that he was a better leader than he was a student. Leading and serving, he says, were his passions—and so ingrained in him that he couldn’t escape them. He became class archon, served as student representative to the Board of Visitors and Governors, and led Polity his senior year.

“I thought I was getting away from all this stuff, and I was going to go study philosophy and math and things that had nothing to do with politics,” he says. “There I was leading the student government and leading my classmates in projects—always organizing, if it was for a cause or just a party.”

Still, he was determined to blaze his own trail. Gorczynski decided to write not about politics for his senior essay, but about Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal.

“I didn’t write about the Constitution, I didn’t write about Democracy in America or Marx or Smith, but I don’t think it surprised my friends that I wanted to write about something that had religious or Christian imagery and kind of explore it through that perspective,” he says.

He says he liked that his essay was an intellectual exercise rather than something that could later have a practical application, and it gave him a lifelong appreciation of poetry. It didn’t matter that poetry wasn’t his great love or greatest area of interest.

“I think people who go to St. John’s look at whatever is new as something that is exciting because there isn’t a subject that we’re intimidated by,” he says. “There isn’t something we think we can’t figure out.”

After graduation, Gorczynski still couldn’t quite accept that he’d follow in his parents’ footsteps. It wasn’t until he helped with his father’s reelection campaign that he knew he wanted a life in politics.

“It was more fun than anything I had ever done,” he says of his father’s winning campaign. “I really loved it. I loved the strategy. I loved the community aspect of it.”

He went on to become a field organizer for a senate campaign, then a regional field organizer, and then ran a city council race. He volunteered with Young Democrats of America, first on a local level, and later as the national training director. He constantly watched for opportunities.

“As a young person involved in politics ... There’s this whole internship kind of culture, and I wasn’t as interested in getting somebody coffee,” he says. “I wanted to have a leadership role, so I worked doing other things and did volunteer work to find leadership roles to build my own leadership potential.”

In the fall of 2015, Democrat Sylvia Garcia, already a state senator, asked him to help part-time with communications and community work. Eventually, he worked his way up to become her chief of staff. He’s led her team since before the last legislative session. She won the 29th Congressional District in Houston, Texas on November 6, becoming one of the first two Latina women to represent the state in Congress. Now he plans to follow her to the US House of Representatives. Gorczynski recently agreed to serve as Chief of Staff for Rep-elect Garcia once she’s sworn in on January 3.

Though he did end up pursuing a political path, he remains grateful for all that St. John’s revealed to him.

“[It was] an environment where it was cool to be intellectual,” he says. “It was a place where people wanted to be smart rather than hide their smarts … where you could talk about big ideas. That was the expectation.”