Springtime on the Hilltop breathes an air of excitement across campus – a fresh semester, new classes and summer break just a couple months away. And as the school year comes to a close, students start packing up their dorm rooms and apartments, saying “see you next semester” to friends and preparing for what the next few months will bring before heading back home to the Hilltop.
However, for those graduating it is exciting, busy and bittersweet. For the seniors it is time to open a new chapter and set out into the world. For graduate students, it can mean returning to their normal professional life or can be the opportunity to pursue a new path.
Regardless – no matter where you are on campus – it is always hard to say goodbye to the Hoyas who are just a stage walk across from becoming alumni.
And at Georgetown’s Institute of Politics and Public Service it is clear the impact many graduating Hoyas have made on the Institute and the impact the Institute has had on them.
A Call to Serve
Matteo Caulfield (C’23) got involved with GU Politics immediately upon arriving on campus. He came to Washington, D.C., knowing he wanted to be involved in public service but hadn’t quite nailed down exactly what that would mean.
When he joined Fall 2021 Fellow Sara Sendek’s Student Strategy Team he got a firsthand glimpse into the world of cybersecurity and the critical role it plays in our national security.
Caulfield credits that experience and time with Sendek, who worked for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, as what inspired him to pursue a career in the Army’s Cyber Corps.
“Because of Sara Sendek’s experience and my experience connecting her expertise with students, I became personally interested [in cybersecurity],” said Caulfield. “I knew that I wanted to use my interest in cyber policy in law to contribute to our national security posture with cyber and so I’ll be a cyber officer in the US Army after graduation.”
Returning to Service
Despite his program at McCourt only being one year, Steven Shaw (MPP’23) took every opportunity to engage with GU Politics – serving both his semesters at Georgetown as Student Strategy Team leads for Fall 2022 Fellow Katie Harbath and Spring 2023 Fellow Elaine Luria.
Shaw, an Army officer, felt the call to serve his nation early on and has returned to his “day job” now that he has finished his master’s program.
He knew one of the draws of Georgetown is the “all-access” pass you can get to D.C. and when choosing a school to pursue a public policy degree he knew there was no better place than the Hilltop.
But just because he was away from military bases and installations, he still found himself caught in an intersection between his personal and professional life.
“I think if I were to pick one individual example, it would be when I was able to interact with John Kirby at [Fall 2022 Fellow] Karoun’s [Demerjian] discussion group,” said Shaw. “And that was an interesting confluence between my work life and my personal life in that he was the press secretary at the Pentagon and often was the front line in giving information about the actions and activities of the DOD and, in my work in the Army, I’m often the person out there doing the action or activity.”
Finding a Campus Community
For many first year students, it can be daunting to show up to a university where you might not know anyone and are far away from home for the first time.
For Emma Sunkin (C’23), GU Politics was one of the first spaces on campus she was drawn to because she knew immediately it was a place where she could build community and prepare herself for the future.
“I was lucky enough to be introduced to [GU Politics Executive Director] Mo [Elleithee] when I got into the school, and he obviously knew how to tell me how amazing GU Politics was and all the opportunities it would offer me,” said Sunkin. “So I got involved the day I got here.”
One of the most incredible opportunities Sunkin had was participating in the 2019 Climate Forum – a collaboration between GU Politics and MSNBC to hear directly from 2020 presidential candidates their climate policy plans.
“I was involved in the Climate Forum – which as an 18-year-old fresh out of high school – was kind of an incredible and amazing and scary experience,” said Sunkin, who introduced former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro. “But I think that one moment really just taught me a lot about myself and about the capacity I had to be in an elevated space in the political landscape at such a young age.”
It was experiences such as the climate forum that helped Sunkin gain confidence and go on to excel at numerous internships throughout her time as a student – and will be part of the foundation that guides her post graduation working at the intersection of business and politics.
Hooked on GU Politics
“The fall of my freshman year I joined Fall 2019 Fellow Jonathan Burk’s (SFS’99) Student Strategy Team and from there I was just absolutely hooked,” said Grace Xu (SFS’23).
And through her time on campus Xu made GU Politics a central part of time on the Hilltop – eventually becoming a Co-chair of the 2022 – 2023 Student Advisory Board where she helped lead the institute from the student level.
For Xu, however, it wasn’t just about the programming or leadership opportunities. At the heart of it, Xu found a community – much like Sunkin – where she was able to meet with and learn from her peers that have similar interests to her. Even if they didn’t always agree.
“Being able to just walk into the living room and see and work with and talk to peers who care about the same issues I care about really are sold into the mission here at GU Politics, which is to just be thoughtful and have really civil but constructive conversations about different political issues,” said Xu.
In addition to GU Politics, Xu has taken every opportunity to be a real life example of the civil dialogue the Institute works to promote. As an active member of College Republicans, she was dedicated to ensuring she and other members were tearing down partisan walls and engaging with other organizations such as College Democrats and the Bipartisan Coalition.
And it is that initiative and desire to find common ground that will be one of Xu’s greatest strengths as she looks toward her new role as consultant – working with others to find solutions that can make a difference.
A Fly on the Wall
One of the most popular programs to get involved with through GU Politics is the student-run podcast, The Fly. Whether it’s interviewing current fellows or having one on one conversations with powerful political leaders, The Fly has done it all.
For Kelvin Doe (C’23), being part of the team that makes The Fly take off and “fly” has been a rewarding experience and offered him the opportunity to gain a better understanding of what career paths he could pursue post graduation.
“I never knew I had an interest in journalism or what that meant before,” said Doe. “I didn’t really realize there’s a place for creativity in the political space until I talked to a bunch of comms people, journalists and policy people – and it made me realize the connection.”
But Doe’s involvement with GU Politics didn’t just stop at The Fly. He was part of a Student Strategy Team and, after attending pre-orientation as a Freshman, became a pre-orientation leader each following year where he was able to share with new Hoyas all the offerings and exciting opportunities GU Politics presented.
One of those exciting opportunities? Heading out to the Iowa Caucus in 2020.
Doe recalls being at the hotel in Iowa and Elleithee pointing out different political players.
“Mo [Elleithee] was just kind of pointing out who everyone was and why they were important. He was like, that guy over there? Manages Pete Buttigieg,” said Doe.
For Doe it was such a learning experience – giving him a true look behind the scenes and an up close view into the human side of politics; a side that is not very often seen to those who don’t play in the space.
For someone so impassioned with learning and broadening their own horizons, it is a natural fit Doe will be moving out to San Antonio, Texas, as a member of the Teach for America corps where he will be able to share his love of learning with the next generation of young leaders.
A New Chapter
It can be a shock when the graduates walk across the stage and walk toward that next chapter. For the Institute it’s a strange feeling that once the Living Room is flooded again with students come the fall there will be a few familiar faces missing.
However, as Elleithee always says, once you’ve been a part of GU Politics the Institute will never stop bugging you. It’s nearly impossible to escape the community and no one wants to – it is a space and place that boasts limitless possibilities for anyone even remotely interested in politics and public service.
And who knows, maybe one of these Hoyas will make their way back to the Hilltop but this time as a Fellow.
This article was written by Lacy Nelson (MPS ’24), a graduate journalism student at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.