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Two Under 21 Assist with 39 Under 39

Howard W. Hewitt – I wrote after last year’s Big Bash how much fun it is to have a couple of students here helping us out in Public Affairs for the big reunion weekend.

It was so much fun, in fact, that we did it again this year. Juniors Patrick McAlister and Gary James were here to interview 10 young alums under the age of 39 for our 39 UNDER 39 project. And as usual, they did a great job.

But I felt like there was even more to the story this year. We were also able to arrange one of those unique Wabash mentoring situations for the two young men. Patrick and Gary each have a strong interest in journalism and perhaps an even stronger affinity for politics. 

So after his Saturday afternoon colloquium presentation, former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith spent about a half hour with the guys talking politics, public service and public policy.

What a great moment for these two young men to be able to pick the brain of a self-described “policy wonk” and certainly one of the best. Goldsmith lectures at Harvard in the Kennedy School of Government and is Chairman of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Goldsmith was enthusiastic about spending time with the guys when asked.

A great Wabash moment! I asked each of the guys to reflect on that private time.

Patrick McAlister ’10 – I have consistently been under the impression that after one leaves pubic office one’s life of public service could be over. Sure there might be some foundation or philanthropic organization one might be a part of but actual substantive service would most likely be over; you would be retired.

After having the opportunity to talk with Mayor Goldsmith, my perceptions have changed.

Ever since his tenure as mayor of Indiana’s largest city has been over, he seems to have found many ways to put in time to best work. Aside from teaching young leaders at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard he is Chair of the Corporation for National and Community Service and sits on the board of America’s Promise. Each of these ventures ensures both a busy schedule and a life of substantial public service involvement.

In his talk, I was refreshed at how measured and reasoned his thoughts on major issues were. So often we see candidates whittling down major pieces of public policy to mere sound bites. Goldsmith seems to be a ‘policy wonk’; someone searching for solutions to major problems, leaving blind partisanship and ideological extremism out in favor of pragmatism.

In an environment as politically charged as Washington, coming to a ‘pragmatic’ solution may prove to be impossible. Goldsmith discussed how, as President Bush’s leader of the Office of Faith Based Initiatives he attempted to push for a pragmatic solution to an issue. After weighing the options he arrived at what seemed to be the logical solution to the
problem; after wrangling with congressmen on both sides over the issue he could not figure out why none of them could see it the way he saw it. After a time he realized that congressmen would rather haggle over the issue than arrive at a sensible solution.

Pragmatism, I think, is a gift Wabash provides for each graduate – the ability to analyze a problem, consider all of the ‘sides’ and come up with the most logical solution. Not all graduates employ this gift, but it is refreshing to see one that does. Attempting to bring about pragmatic changes in an environment like DC where bickering takes center stage can
seem impossible.

Here’s to hoping Wabash men employ this gift in public service.

Gary James ’10 – When I was growing up , I would occasionally hear adults fret seriously about the prospects for my generation. We grew up in an age of instant gratification, the digital age, and, at least in their opinion, without having to struggle the way previous generations did.

Of course, I never believed the criticism. And I was pleased to find Former Indianapolis Mayor and Professor of Government at Harvard University Stephen Goldsmith ’68 did not either. In his colloquium and in our conversation afterward, he spoke of the drive to serve that has consumed many young Americans, especially after September 11. They have signed up for Teach for America, Americorp, Peace Corp, and other service opportunities at all levels, both in and out of government.

Mr. Goldsmith seemed to understand my generation’s desire and ability to serve different causes in a way the adults from my childhood did not. Not only are we willing to seek out volunteer opportunities, but we are able to create our own, in what Mr. Goldsmith accurately described as “2.0 technologies,” such as facebook widgets.

Knowing his record in politics and academia, it should not surprise me that Mr. Goldsmith has an acute sense of a world changing and a new generation stepping up the plate of history. He spoke with confidence and authority about the ability to raise money and create causes and groups on social networking sights that can literally span the country in a matter of hours – a reality that has interesting implications for politics.

Mr. Goldsmith said Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign has really channeled both young people’s drive for service and their ability of the internet to a vehicle to gain support. He said whatever one’s political leanings, more people involved in service and government is a positive sign about the future. And I couldn’t agree more.