Last week I went for a run along the National Mall – a habit I’ve developed over my four years at GW. As I was heading past the Washington Monument at sunset, Marine One flew overhead and landed cleanly on the White House lawn. For the first time in months, I felt a flutter of excitement as I remembered how special it is to witness something like that: It really isn’t something you see every day.
It’s easy to feel jaded after spending eight semesters studying in the District. I came to GW excited about politics and about the city, and like so many other students, I hoped to run a campaign or be press secretary someday. Now I’m more cynical and quite frankly, a bit bored of the pomp and circumstance that comes with living in our nation’s capital.
But I wish it weren’t that way. I remember how I saw the city as a bright-eyed freshman. Then, I saw D.C. as a city where people made real change – a city that the whole world should pay attention to. And I saw GW as the only school that could teach me how to be a part of that change. That optimism was much better than the way I feel now.
I’ve found that students who come to GW excited about politics end up one of two ways: They’re either more energized and ready to take on the political process than ever before, or they’ve lost much of their interest. If you find yourself slipping toward the latter, like me, try to avoid it. I wish I would have.
One of my biggest takeaways from my political communication major is that politics is all about rhetoric: Getting people to agree with and like what you say rather than saying or doing anything important. While I still have hope that we can make meaningful political change with a lot of time and patience, I have far less faith in the political process overall. That has made D.C. seem less important and more boring.
That feeling can creep in pretty quickly. As early as my sophomore year, my runs on the mall were filled with less awe and more annoyance at tourists. I grew tired of walking my family to the White House when they came to visit. I waited in line to see political speakers on campus far less often.
Only after a summer away from the city did I feel excited about it again, and even that wore off fairly quickly. Sure, it was always fun to show a friend around D.C., or experience something new – like going inside the White House, or attending a talk with Nancy Pelosi at the School of Media and Public Affairs. But as my exhaustion with politics became more overwhelming, these experiences felt much less special and significant.
Looking back as a senior, though, I’ve realized that we really are lucky to study quite literally down the street from some of the most influential people and institutions in the world. Some students are even fortunate enough to land internships in those places, like the State Department or the White House. But a lot of people take that for granted. Tourists come from all over the world to take pictures in front of the Lincoln Memorial. And I run by it two or three times a week, completely unphased.
I’m spoiled. I feel like a little girl who specifically asked for a chocolate sundae with a cherry on top and then said, “I’m done” after just a few bites. And I feel guilty about that.
If you’re starting to feel jaded – no matter where you are in your GW career – try to resist. Take a few classes that aren’t about politics, and take a break from the tourist D.C. activities. Give yourself some space so that you can keep enjoying all of the things that make this city special.
And don’t be afraid to embrace D.C. when you’re not taking a break from it. Make yourself a bucket list that includes things like getting a library card from the Library of Congress, sitting on the Lincoln Memorial at sunrise and watching the changing of the guard. Don’t forget to appreciate that this is a unique city with a lot to offer, and you have opportunities that no one else in the world does.
As for me, I’ll be staying in the District after Commencement – but I won’t be living anywhere near campus or the city’s main tourist attractions. I’ve fallen in love with other neighborhoods, instead.
Once I’m no longer a GW student, I’ll probably lose my easy access to some of the coolest political experiences possible in D.C., since the school sponsors so many events and brings great speakers to campus. And I wish I would have realized that every time I’ve skipped an event over the past few years.
GW students really are lucky. While the experiences the University labels as “only at GW” moments certainly don’t just happen at GW or to GW students, they are pretty cool. So if you aren’t graduating this year, take advantage of GW’s location. Your chance will be gone before you know it.
Sarah Blugis, a senior majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.