Justin Guiffre: Flexibility for the future

Every year students living in Thurston Hall are given T-shirts that proclaim the infamous sexual habits of the storied dorm. Yet this year’s version reads simply “Future President,” playing on the long running joke that every student at GW will be the next president of the United States. But perhaps this T-shirt holds something more than a joke. Perhaps it holds a truth about the mentality of GW students.

Many students’ life plans are eerily similar: get a degree in political science, intern for the senator and/or congressman from their home state, become the senator and/or congressman from their home state and finally become the president – thus fulfilling the prophecy of the 2007 Thurston T-shirts. It almost reads like a video game, and for many students the feeling is that if they lose at one level, it’s game over.

Fortunately this is not the case in real life. One of those nice aspects of the world outside of Foggy Bottom is that we are not preprogrammed into a set path. We constantly have the power to change our direction and purpose. If we let ourselves lose sight of this by becoming fixed on a particular mindset we will lose out on opportunities and end up stressed beyond control.

One of the interesting contradictions at GW is the freshman four-year plan. This is the process by which students still in their first semester of college are asked to map out their entire college education. At the same time students are constantly fed the same old lines about how it is okay not to be sure about what they want to do. Personally I’m not set on next semester, let alone choosing classes that I feel will be pertinent to my studies and the world four years from now.

Politics is a prime example of a field that demands flexibility. I was once told about student that got on board in the 2000 George Bush campaign early and quickly rose through the ranks as it took off. After Bush was called the winner he was offered a job in the White House. Although reluctant to take the job for fears of disrupting the college plan, he did so. Instead of spending the next couple years studying politics from a dorm room and textbook, he learned from working full-time with the president. Even if you don’t consider Bush to be the best teacher of anything, such an opportunity probably wouldn’t fit nicely into a four-year plan.

But it is not just happening on GW’s campus. This is representative of a larger problem in the United States. A fear of a hypercompetitive college admissions process has led even high schools to implement majors. An article published by The New York Times in August titled, “Forced to Pick a Major in High School” detailed the growing trend. In Florida this year, in-coming high school students have been forced to choose a major from one of more than 400 subjects. Similar policies have been established in states and schools around the nation. Having students choose a life plan before they have to choose their prom date is, simply stated, a horrible initiative.

Of course it’s not an awful idea to have at least some plan and direction, but it is important to remain flexible. When the College Democrats hosted Terry McAuliffe, I overheard a student describing the typical political life every GW student imagines leading. McAuliffe responded by urging him to not get ahead of oneself as better opportunities can come along and there’s a chance of missing them if your path is too narrow.

Indeed improving the world does not mean one has to have president before their name. If a student is really passionate about an issue they should be prepared to work in whatever capacity will be most effective. Realistically, senators and congressmen are not the most effective people when it comes to creating positive change. In the Oct. 1 edition of Newsweek, four people were praised for their huge impact on global epidemics. None of these people were senators, congressmen or even a president. They all applied their jobs unconventionally with new and innovative techniques for helping people around the world. These individuals obviously took advantage of ideas and skills that came along unexpectedly. This isn’t to say that a car salesman will bring about world peace, but sometimes creativity goes hand in hand with success in all fields of study.

There is nothing wrong with desiring to be a high-level political figure your freshman year of college, especially if that desire is fueled by a true enthusiasm to make a difference. Taking advantage of the unexpected, even the occasional setback, can be valuable in its own right. The GW population should consider trading in its “Future President” mentality for one that better matches the constant change and innovation of today’s world.

The writer is a freshman majoring in political science.

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