Above: Sen. Julie Slama visited Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque in Brunei during a 2017 trip through Southeast Asia.
Peru Sen. Julie Slama should probably be in class right now. While most new state senators are learning to balance their public service with work responsibilities, Slama is figuring out how to serve the constituents of District 1 and finish her spring semester legal writing course.
“It’s really not the ideal time for me to be leaving law school, at all,” she laughed. “It’s actually the least convenient time for me, but the [school] administration has just been fantastic working with me.”
While being appointed one of the youngest senators in the history of the Unicameral in December 2018 was not exactly in her five-year plan, Slama has never backed down from taking on a challenge.
She grew up a mile and a half southeast of Peru, with her parents and two siblings: fraternal twin sister Emily, and younger sister Melanie. After graduating from Auburn High School, Slama decided to take the first of many big leaps—she applied to Yale University. What would drive a small-town high school student to attend one of the most prestigious universities in the country?
“They let me in—that was a key factor,” Slama joked. “I was from this small town and I just figured there’s no harm in applying. So, I put my name out there and I got in.”
While studying political science and government, she had the opportunity to travel the world. So far, Slama has visited 31 different countries, 22 of which were solo adventures. Visiting 10 southeast Asian countries to research her senior capstone project stands out as one of her favorite trips.
While there, she had the opportunity to study and compare Asian regional governance structures with those of the European Union. But one nonacademic memory that stands out is of a taxi driver in Myanmar.
“He didn’t speak any English beyond ‘hello’ and enough to just kind of get along,” she said. “But he knew enough to ask me if I liked rock music. So, we spent the entire trip in rush-hour traffic just singing along with Pink Floyd.”
When she wasn’t busy forging important diplomatic bonds through the power of rock music, Slama found time to conquer Wheel of Fortune. She made it to the final puzzle during a 2016 appearance on the popular game show, but was one consonant short of winning it all.
“The phrase ‘bright glow’ will haunt me for the rest of my life,” she said.
Slama graduated from Yale one semester early, returning to her hometown to work as a paraprofessional and volunteer as a high school track coach. There was never a question that she would return, she said, because Nebraska is home.
“I can go back to my hometown in Auburn and if I have a flat [tire] or something goes wrong, I have 30 people in my phone that will drop everything to come out and help me and I’d do the same for them,” Slama said. “There’s just such a sense of community and pride in that community. I knew I was going to come back. No place in the world can beat it.”
Growing up in such a tight-knit community will inform her work as a state senator, she said.
“I look forward to hearing from [my constituents] on the issues,” Slama said. “I look forward to reaching out and talking more with them because they really are the ‘second house’ of the Legislature and I’m excited to hear what they have to say.”