These days, Dylan Giambatista spends most of his time under Montpelier’s golden dome— meeting with fellow lawmakers, discussing the most pressing issues in Vermont, and bringing a bit of youthful energy to the working museum that is our State House.
Giambatista is one of the youngest members of Vermont’s House of Representatives. He was elected in 2016 to represent the Chittenden 8-2 district, which includes the village of Essex Junction. He also serves as Director of Outreach and Financial Literacy for the State Treasurer—a position which admittedly makes the shorter-term commitment to the legislative calendar more feasible. He says he loves every moment of his work. “You need good relationships with people. You need open-mindedness. You can’t be black and white about your views. You have to find a way to build coalitions and work together, identify priorities, and try to help people.”
But Giambatista’s route to the capitol wasn’t what you’d expect. He dropped out of school when he was 16. “I was a student who didn’t achieve much success in grade school,” he said. “I didn’t have much of an interest.” He did earn a GED from the Stafford Technical Center in Rutland. “And then I spun my wheels, I worked odd jobs, I played in bands. I did things that interested me but they weren’t necessarily going anywhere.”
He says this non-traditional background, his self-described “snake of a story,” makes him an effective legislator. “When you come from a background where you have struggled, you can look at issues, you can see them from all sides. I try to keep in touch with what’s actually going on out there, try to remember who people are at their core, give them the benefit of the doubt, give them a shot.” He says he’s earned the respect of his constituents as well as his peers. “I think there’s some credibility that exists when you have lived a life of some adversity.”
Which brings us back to those spinning wheels: In one sense—the one he means to invoke during this interview—he’s describing stagnation. “I had mixed success, I would say, in terms of my stick-to-it-iveness at that point in my life. It was just because I had many interests and going to school in the traditional structure and living on campus was not for me,” he said. “I was behind a little bit academically because I didn’t really participate in grade school, I didn’t really do anything in middle school.”
In another sense—which bubbles up as he talks, which comes through in his enthusiasm, his sincerity—he’s describing a revelation. He decided to enroll in a full-time semester at CCV’s Rutland campus, despite being unsure of what he wanted to study, and found that this time around, he enjoyed school. “That first semester gave me confidence that I could succeed academically.” Not only that, the content of his classes was intriguing, and seemed to align with interests in ethics, philosophy, and law. Perhaps most influential, “I had a personal awakening, I think, in terms of an interest in history.”
“I’m a student of history,” he says. That curiosity led to a study of politics, and an interest in public service. “I think if you want to be successful in politics, public policy or anything else, you need to understand the history of what it means, how people get to a certain place, what moves people.”
After completing a liberal studies degree at CCV in 2010, Giambatista continued to Johnson State College. “The [Vermont State Colleges] system served as a springboard…the agreements were there for me to transfer elsewhere. I found that the interaction between the campuses gave me more flexibility, and I ended up at JSC, but it was because of the experiences I had at CCV that I think I ended up finding what I wanted to do [there].” What he really wanted to do, of course, was study history. During his time at Johnson, he had the opportunity to participate in internships and work on political campaigns, and from there he earned jobs working with State Treasurer Beth Pierce and House Speaker Shap Smith. In 2016, he decided to organize his own campaign to replace the incumbent representative from his district. In the House, he is an outspoken advocate of the state college system, and just last week was elected to serve a four-year term on the VSC Board of Trustees.
Giambatista says some of the most basic skills he uses day in and day out were nurtured at CCV, where he found the support of a community and instructors who instilled passion. Many of those instructors, he says, were “great people who incubated in me some sort of core beliefs that really carried through.” And he learned just as much, if not more, from his classmates. “CCV’s experience put me more in touch with real people. To me that is an attribute that is so essential to a lively, fulfilling education. You can’t learn a lot unless you’re brought into contact with different people.”
For Dylan Giambatista, serving as a voice for his neighbors is an honor imbued with challenge and potential. To do it gracefully, he relies on the basics: “Being open minded, being curious, accepting that you don’t have all the answers but that you can learn if you work really hard and show up. And I learned that at CCV.”