Justin Peligri: Make a pre-graduation to-do list that counts

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Justin Peligri

In almost seven months to the day, I’ll pack up all my belongings and move out of my off-campus apartment. I’ll ask myself superficial, unanswerable questions like “Where did the time go?”

I’ll probably be toting a box of tissues.

And most likely, I’ll look back and wonder whether I missed out. So I’ve been making a mental list of times I’ve gone outside the mainstream to have fun – an effort to ease the fear that I haven’t taken complete advantage of my college years.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Justin Peligri

Now, if it satisfies your notions of what college in the District should be, feel free to bring your textbooks to the Lincoln Memorial. Take a Sunday afternoon trip to Baked & Wired. Post your selfies at the White House on Instagram for all to see. These cliche experiences are in large part what shape our experiences at GW – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But if you want to get the most out of your time here, consider these less-than-conventional suggestions, too. I’ve had luck with them, and there’s still a chance to get them all in before Commencement.

1. Take an English class
It doesn’t matter what you’re majoring in – do it.

As an English minor, I’ve been able to take a decent number of classes in one of the University’s strongest and most underrated departments. You’ve already heard the rhetoric about the value of a liberal arts degree, how courses in the humanities encourage critical thinking and how these classes are the best places at any university to hone writing skills. That’s all true here, too.

It’s a little known fact that GW boasts some of the nation’s leading scholars in areas like disability studies and medieval studies, two innovative areas of scholarship housed in the English department.

At first, it was uncomfortable to raise my hand and comment in classroom debates on remote subjects like African influence on Caribbean literature or the social model of physical disability. But I found that pushing myself to read and discuss liberal arts topics I’m not familiar with has made college more worthwhile.

I can talk about the future of journalism all day. But more creative areas in the English department have given me the courage to think with parts of my brain I usually don’t use.

So even if it doesn’t advance your degree in economics or international affairs, sign up for an English class. You’ll likely learn something that will help you, even if you don’t realize exactly what that is right now.

2. Attend a protest for a cause you don’t believe in
Many students at GW will, over the course of their time here, participate in some sort of political rally for a cause they believe in. Like others, I have spent a Saturday afternoon or two holding signs outside the White House calling for government action on social justice issues. And I’m proud to say I was among those outside the Supreme Court when the justices were reviewing marriage equality cases in May 2013.

Any time I see a group of sign-toting protesters with a political message I don’t agree with, though, I usually keep my distance. And that means I’m the one missing out.

I’m not suggesting that we all become sellouts by ignoring our own values and joining in with those with whom we disagree. But in college – especially at GW, where political variation often has more to do with how left of center you are than whether you lean left or right – it is far too easy to stick with people who share our assumptions.

The ability to sympathize with others with whom we disagree can be difficult in homogenous classes where students come from similar parts of the country and have similar world views. There are far more pro-life students at GW than those who are attending the annual March for Life, for example.

Instead – at least for a few hours – we’d be smart to learn about someone else’s cause without completely drinking their Kool Aid.

3. Intern somewhere unknown
Here’s the hard truth: Capitol Hill internships are vastly overrated.

Of course, the Capitol and the surrounding office buildings are storied, iconic fixtures of the District. But the reality is, the stuff taking place inside them just isn’t that interesting right now, given today’s political gridlock.

Even if things weren’t so polarized, there’s still not a ton to be gained from picking up coffee for your representative or keeping a log of constituents who call to gripe about their Congressman’s support for some remote, decade-old piece of legislation. From what I’ve heard, substanceless experiences like these are often what comprise an internship there.

To spend a summer commuting to Congress is to ignore other internships at smaller organizations that can teach you practical skills that you may use in a job down the road.

If politics are your thing, consider working at an advocacy group or even in the D.C. government. The offices on the local level aren’t as glitzy, but at least your bosses will be accomplishing something substantive.

If you’ve made it to GW, chances are you are overqualified to be a Hilltern. Let’s leave that to the summer interns.

4. Grab coffee with your favorite D.C. celebrity
It’s not uncommon in this city for someone you’ve been reading about or seeing appear on cable news walk by you on the street. Hours after I pass a local news reporter I read regularly or spot a former presidential speechwriter at a bar, I always berate myself for not offering a simple handshake.

Granted, chatting up complete strangers is probably not smart or polite. But in my experience, I’ve found that industry professionals are actually quite receptive to sharing expertise with those aspiring to fill their shoes one day.

So starting now, I’m making it a point to Google the email addresses of people in the District whom I admire – or perhaps even seek them out on Twitter. I’ll pick their brains for career advice, something we all need in a competitive job market. Chances are, I’ll learn as much from professionals I admire as I do from most of my classes.

So without eschewing a trip to the National Cathedral or a drunken picture atop the GW hippo, make an effort while you’re here to move beyond the generic. Spend the bulk of your time truly soaking in the District, and leave the monuments to the tourists.

Justin Peligri, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet senior columnist.

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