Military Veteran Shares His Transformational DNC Experience
If only by virtue of their rarity, the academic seminars hosted by The Washington Center (TWC) are a unique experience. But my time in Charlotte was more than a confluence of fortunate timing. It is an experience of enrichment and inspiration that will come to define my academic career at Bridgewater State University.
Without having experienced it, it’s difficult to imagine two weeks shaping and informing your educational aspirations and career arc. Having said that, my time in Charlotte still has me asking myself some of the toughest questions I’ve ever had to answer. Interactions with journalist-in-residence Aaron Brown forced me to reevaluate my perception of the media’s role in government, while personal interchanges with opinion analyst Peter Hart spoke to quantitative side. I found myself reevaluating my career goals in quantitative finance, wondering if there was a place for me inside the Beltway rather than on Wall Street.
I also learned quickly that TWC would not seek to reinforce one particular skill set or array of ideals, but instead would welcome students of all disciplines and encourage those students to sit at the table of informed discourse. I am currently pursuing separate degrees in Finance and Economics, and I was certain I would be lost among a sea of political science majors. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the range of majors ran the gamut from Biochemistry to Writing. The diversity of perspectives was reinforced by the demographic makeup of the 100-plus students and staff that attended the event, and while my standing as a college junior was the ideal time for me to attend, it was the demographic diversity of the group that made the trip so valuable to people of all age ranges and academic standings. If America is a melting pot, then TWC programs are microcosms.
I spent two weeks outside my conservative comfort zone, and while the entire time was dominated by meeting grassroots organizers, public radio personalities, editors-in-chief and elected officials, they are not the program’s greatest resource. As remarkable as the guests and environment, the real boon was the students. We came from across the country to exchange ideas and values in a way that is at once ancient but also uniquely American.
Not since leaving the military had I been surrounded by so many capable people. TWC itself is a competitive program, and thus by definition aspirational. When you’re in a room of people who worked and strove for their seat, you begin to appreciate how remarkable it is just to be included. While your time at TWC is largely what you make of it, there is no better allegory for elected office. You are there because you have been selected as a worthy candidate, and that alone imbues you with a responsibility not found elsewhere in academia. As Washington Center alumni, we are the future of political discourse in this country – a responsibility I hold in the highest esteem.
Michael A. Verlezza is a junior at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, MA. He is pursuing degrees in finance and economics while minoring in management. He sits on the curriculum committee for the Bridgewater economics department and is an Op-Ed contributor to Bridgewater's paper, The Comment.