A Letter to the Class of 2014, From a Graduating Senior

May 21, 2010

By Patrick Hanley

Dear Class of 2014:

Welcome to your new home. I choose these words carefully. The Elliott School of International Affairs is not a factory, or a diet. Four years of carefully structured curriculum does not produce diplomats, or transform x into y. The Elliott School is a workshop. It provides toolboxes, blueprints, and the avuncular advice of staff and faculty. The fact of the matter is; you will build your house.

My house did not turn out as I had planned. The nuts and bolts of Chinese language or Asian Affairs did not quite fasten into the beams I brought to the table. After a year of studying the language and thrusting myself into advanced courses, it turns out I simply couldn’t inspire myself with ZhongGuoHua or Beijing’s foreign initiatives, the way I envisioned it. Sophomore year, I examined the blueprints for my second bedroom, international economics, and to my chagrin I realized I no longer liked the shape of the house. Instead of stripping screws and soldiering on, or quitting on the house altogether, I found new supplies that fit my wood, and I redrew the blueprints.

Your screws and nails are your passions. Late in freshman year, I discovered a theory for international affairs that uniquely inspired me. I had found nationalism. Identifying passion lends direction. Like love at first sight, my chance encounter with nationalism became the framework in which I pursued my education. Classes, coursework, lectures, and theses were colored with respect to what I wanted to learn.

Your blueprints should dictate your rooms. I planned on building a room for international economics, but after a few introductory courses, I realized I didn’t need the space. My house is furnished by a “supply-demand sculpture” and an “IMF coffee table,” but in redefining my goals I saved room for a bust of Aristotle, and a bookcase devoted to Scandinavian history. Pursuing two majors is useful, and admirable, but unless they contrast one another blatantly to differentiate your story, for example IA and Drama, fulfilling both can be very restricting.

Furniture is important! The measure of a house is not only in its design and shape, but in the stuff that gives it depth. Plants from India, a photo wall of you meeting famous and interesting people, and a Special Honors trophy lend your house personality and are just as important as the size of your bathroom. But furniture won’t walk into your living room; you must be proactive in acquisition; the Elliott School is rife with odds and ends that could become centerpieces. RSVP for lectures, join organizations, and apply to programs. I rushed the Foreign Service fraternity, Delta Phi Epsilon, and eventually initiated as a brother. The fraternity provided me with a community of fellow craftsmen who honed my professional skills, challenged me to a higher standard of learning, and gave me an outlet for ideas and events that I wanted to share. Following the Elliott School Newsletter, I attended interesting lectures, meeting future teachers, visiting diplomats, and saw glimpses of houses I could emulate. Sophomore year, I applied to become an Elliott School Undergraduate Scholar. The experience guided me through my first thesis paper, sent me to Flanders, and introduced me to the many other opportunities offered by the Elliott School. These three anecdotes characterize how I sought out my furniture, nabbed it off craigslist, and set it in my living room.

Lastly, seek out help. Staff, faculty, and students all have experience in the construction industry. While each house is different, the tricks of the trade are easily applicable. In my stubbornness, I learned this lesson late. During my last year, I finally began to ask for help, with surprising success. Teachers will meet with concerned or curious students; the latter is always preferable. While I tried to keep my run-ins academic and succinct, the occasional personal conversation led me to realize that their wealth of scholarly knowledge is matched with professional wisdom. If you dare to share the secrets of your house, more often than not, they can lend advice about power tools, roof installation, and grand design. Staff members across departments are more than happy to explain what they do, and how it can help you. When I began to plan my own events, I went to see Ms. O’Donnell at public affairs and learned more than I could have imagined. Set aside pride or fear, so that when you do move in, you won’t regret a semester’s worth of Tiki bar or Nemo’s massive fish tank in your kitchen.

My house took three years to build; yours may take five. My house has one bedroom; yours may have two. Your house is yours to build. The tools are laid out in the workshop, possible blueprints are infinite, and furniture is plentiful. That is the promise and the challenge of the Elliott School of International Affairs. Welcome to your new home; take up the pen, and build.

P.S. Please, for your own sake, no turrets.

Patrick Hanley is a graduating International Affairs major in the Elliott School of International Affairs.  He was also a member of the inaugural Elliott School Undergraduate Scholars, for which he completed a project titled: “Winds of Change: A Study of Contemporary Nationalism and European Politics.”

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