“Climate change should be priority number one,” declared John Kerry to a crowded hall of Yale students as he shared the stage with three other former Secretaries of State: Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Clinton.

I smiled and cheered because I knew personally that Sec. Kerry really meant it. I am a Kerry Fellow along with more than a dozen other graduate and undergraduate students across many different programs at Yale.

This position lasts for the entire academic year and entails a mix of self-led research on topics of pressing global importance as well as conducting research and analysis on the fly for Sec. Kerry himself. I find this rapid response aspect of the fellowship to be extremely rewarding. It is consequential and has direct, real-world relevance and meaning.

In early April, Sec. Kerry was called to testify to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform for a hearing on “The Need for Leadership to Combat Climate Change and Protect National Security.” Myself and three other Fellows were tasked with developing a briefing document on the subject. We then had the opportunity to attend the hearing in Washington D.C., just in time for the cherry blossoms.

If you’ve seen any of the footage from the hearing (perhaps this memorable “Are you serious?” exchange with Rep. Massie), you will notice me in my white khakis sitting right behind Sec. Kerry. For four hours, Sec. Kerry and former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, fielded questions. The two former senators, one a Democrat and one a Republican, unanimously identified climate change as a direct threat to national security. Not in some distant future or far off land, but right now and right here.

Thanks to Sec. Kerry’s leadership and his example, the fellowship serves as a springboard not only to study and research global issues like challenges to democracy and global climate change, but also to participate directly in their solution.