Nearly 340 outstanding undergraduate students from across the U.S. and around the globe descended on Washington, D.C. this week to begin eight weeks of living, learning and interning in the nation’s capital. The students were formally welcomed into the TFAS family during a Welcome Ceremony at George Mason University’s Arlington campus on Monday, June 10.
In her third consecutive year as the summer’s opening speaker, comedian, motivational speaker and free speech advocate Karith Foster stressed the importance of looking beyond outward appearances and identity politics to consider the worth of each individual, as well as our common connections to humanity.
“The word diversity has been hijacked,” Foster told the students. “When we talk about diversity it tends to lean toward putting people into categories that separate us, rather than bring us together and I think that’s dangerous.”
Foster founded the Foster Russell Family Foundation and the “Stereotyped 101” program to spread her message of free speech, inclusion and social change as far and wide as possible. In place of diversity, Foster likes to talk about inversity, a term she coined to acknowledge and respect our differences, while focusing introspectively on our common connections to humanity.
You need to recognize that we may not always see things the exact same way and that’s okay, but to have civil dialogues and see others’ perspectives does a world of good.” – Karith Foster
“We don’t know who anyone is until we get to know them. We can make all the assumptions in the world about someone, but until you speak with them, until you engage with them, you have no idea. I want you to remember that while you’re here this summer,” she said.
Throughout the talk, Foster used humor and examples from her own life to demonstrate the power of empathy and civil dialogue. “You need to recognize that we may not always see things the exact same way and that’s okay, but to have civil dialogues and see others’ perspectives does a world of good,” she said. “We gravitate to what we know and what’s comfortable, but you have an incredible opportunity right now to expand your horizons, to explore and to engage with people who are so different and that is so wonderful and I hope you embrace that.”
TFAS Senior Scholar Dr. Don Boudreaux spoke on behalf of TFAS faculty and encouraged students to view their TFAS classes and lessons as a prism through which to examine public policy and the way the world works.
“You’re going to be introduced to people of different backgrounds and different perspectives this summer, and they will share with you many different ideas,” said Boudreaux. “It’s up to you to put it together, to make final sense of it, but a good teacher and a good classroom is one that helps you process a very complex and large amount of information … all of the TFAS professors are excellent at serving as a great prism to make the information and experiences that you have this summer make a lot more sense to you, and be enjoyable at the same time.”
TFAS President Roger Ream ’76, Chairman Randal Teague and U.S. Programs Director Joe Starrs also welcomed the students to TFAS by providing their own hopes and encouraging words to the incoming class.
During his remarks, President Ream invoked Ben Franklin’s famous quip that the Founders had created “a Republic, if you can keep it,” to challenge the students to become the honorable leaders that the country and world need.
“We are an experiment in liberty, and every experiment is ongoing, with the outcome yet to be determined. Our experiment of liberty is one that will be in your hands in a few years to determine the direction and outcome of that experiment.”
The 2019 D.C. Summer Programs class includes a dynamic group of more than 330 students representing 6 continents, 16 countries and 41 states. The young leaders will spend the next two months attending courses on economics, working at competitive internships, hearing prominent speakers at guest lectures and gaining a behind the scenes tour of Washington during exclusive site briefings. Be sure to follow TFAS on social media throughout the summer for up-to-the-moment information on our programs – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.