The morning after move-in day for TFAS Capital Semester Fall 2016, 31 new TFAS students gathered for a breakfast and opening ceremony at the program headquarters in Washington, D.C. Director of U.S. Programs Joe Starrs welcomed the newest additions to the TFAS family, who have come from all across the nation and around the world to join the Capital Semester Program. Starrs told the students to get ready for their grand adventure, not just at their internships and in their classes, but of intellect stimulation and growth.
“They say New York is the city that never sleeps. Well, some people say D.C. is the city that never shuts up,” Starrs joked.
He reminded students that much of the chatter is chaff, but that much of it is valuable, especially ideas and viewpoints the students may not have encountered before. “Be open to new ideas,” he urged them.
For 15 weeks, the students will be studying international economics, government and leadership at George Mason University, while interning in federal government organizations, embassies, well-known nonprofits, prominent think tanks, major corporations, industry associations and many other Washington institutions.
During the ceremony, students had the opportunity to hear directly from TFAS alumna, Alissa Swango (IPJ 00, IIPES 02). She is currently the director of digital programming at National Geographic, but spoke to the students about the twists and turns, dead ends and sudden opportunities she encountered as she navigated the circuitous path of career advancement that is the new normal.
Swango asked for a show of hands to see how many students were Millennials. All hands went up. She then asked how many felt “Millennial” is often used as a dirty word, and almost as many hands went up. Swango then expressed her hope that they would leave opening day with the knowledge of the strengths of the Millennial generation and how they can “take advantage of being a Millennial to get hired and promoted.”
“There is a lot of disruption today,” Swango said. “Not only in media, but in every field.” After her warning, Swango gave the students a reason to be hopeful for their own paths. “The advantage of being a Millennial is that you know disruption; you grew up with the mentality of a startup. You were born to roll with the punches and you are flexible.” TFAS President Roger Ream (ICPES 76) and Board of Trustees Chair Randal C. Teague also gave a warm welcome to the students. President Ream echoed Swango that it is important for all of them to be comfortable with change. He gave an example from his own life, having to get used to social media to keep up with his Millennial children.
Ream ended by saying, “I hope that you will be exposed to new ideas and things you have not considered before and those ideas will contribute to your intellectual growth and professional growth.”
Teague thanked the students for choosing to join TFAS this semester. He assured them it was going to be a very exciting time to be in Washington and urged them to take advantage of all the city has to offer and work hard in their studies and internships.
“Seldom in your life are you ever the smartest person in the room,” Teague told the students. “Because that’s controlled by your inheritance. But, you can be the hardest working person in the room, because that is a matter of choice.”
Teague gave the new students a final note of encouragement, telling them, “Listen to other people in their observations about you, because others see strengths in you that you don’t necessarily appreciate yourself.”
To round out the opening ceremony, Janet Tran of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute spoke of the new Leadership and the American Presidency (LTAP) program, in its first full semester after a successful inaugural summer program. The program represents a partnership between TFAS and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.
Tran talked to the students about President Reagan’s ideal of informed patriotism and his concern with instilling the value of informed patriotism in the next generation, and how that principle is the guiding star of the LTAP program.
“One of the very last calls to action Nancy Reagan gave to us,” Tran said, “was to come back to D.C. and inspire the next generation of leaders. When I tell people what we are doing, they usually say we’ve either picked the worst time to do it or the best time. In my opinion, we have picked the best time.”