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GabrielGomez_webWhen political leaders prioritize their party over the needs of the country, they can’t develop solutions to serious problems, Navy veteran and former Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez told Milton students.

The United States faces great challenges, from the debates over gun control and immigration, to complex foreign policy problems, and division down party lines will prevent meaningful resolution, says Mr. Gomez, who visited campus as this year’s Conservative Club speaker.

“All these issues need strong leadership, and that’s not going to come from Washington, D.C.,” said Mr. Gomez, who said he’s encouraged by the unity and organization young people have shown since February’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. “All of these issues and their solutions will be driven by your generation.”

Although he considers himself a conservative, Mr. Gomez decided to change his voter registration from Republican to unenrolled recently, because he has become “jaded” over ideological stalemates in the nation’s capital. He urged students to spend time listening to opposing viewpoints, and to find ways to serve in whatever capacity that inspires them.

“You can be a teacher, you can be a doctor, you can be a professional athlete and become a role model,” he said. “If you become politically active, I implore you to be open-minded and do it for the right reasons, and don’t get stuck in the dogma. Think about what this country needs: people who can compromise and work together. I’m a firm believer that this country is much better than its politics.”

Mr. Gomez, who was born in California, is the son of Colombian immigrants. He spoke Spanish until he attended school in Washington state, where, he said, his classmates and larger community were welcoming and kind.

“From an early age, I realized how amazing this country is, and I’m so grateful that my parents chose to come here and stay,” he said. “My interest in service comes from that gratitude. I wanted to do something to pay it back.”

Mr. Gomez attended the United States Naval Academy, and later received his MBA from Harvard Business School. Upon graduation from the Naval Academy, Mr. Gomez sought to train as a Navy SEAL—the Navy’s elite special operations team—but there were no spots available. He trained instead as a fighter pilot and became an aircraft carrier pilot. Within a few years, Mr. Gomez joined the Navy SEALs after passing its intensive selection and training process, and he spent his SEAL career primarily deploying to South America, Central America and the Caribbean, where his team worked on anti-drug missions. Mr. Gomez, who rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander, is one of very few Naval servicemen who have served as both aircraft carrier pilots and Navy SEALs.

Following graduation from Harvard Business School, Mr. Gomez worked in private equity before running as a Republican in the 2013 Massachusetts special senate election to replace newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry. Mr. Gomez won the Republican primary but lost to Democrat Edward Markey in the general election. He co-founded O2X, which provides training and education to first responders, with several Navy SEAL veterans. He and his wife have four children, and he serves on the board of the Noble and Greenough School.