At a typical graduation, you often hear advice preceded by a small, innocuous phrase, “As you leave this place and go back out into the world…” But for the graduating class of 2020, we will hear strange new epithets like, “As you remain isolated from the rest of the world…”
It feels strange to say goodbye. We expect a defined goodbye, a specific moment in time when our connection to the Kennedy School, and each other, changes. But that goodbye, that change in connection, has been happening gradually for all of us over the last two months, and all on different schedules.
Here at The Citizen, we were reflecting on connection well before the pandemic. When we came together in September, we made the idea of connection intrinsic to our vision. For a place as big and aspirational as the Harvard Kennedy School, a place that looks to solve the largest and most abstract challenges facing the world, we wanted to help ground this place in something a little more concrete: the connections we have right in front of us.
We wanted to create a space that helped broaden those connections and build them into a community. In the process, our community taught us incredible lessons about connection.
Sometimes, connection is just getting to know each other better. We learned about Akshaya’s familial love of South Indian food and the gastronomical strain it places on her relationship with her North Indian boyfriend. We learned about how Guilia expresses her love through food, including a mouth-watering ragù bianco. Our stomachs growled in protest that we couldn’t experience this connection in person.
Sometimes, connection is understanding that our community is bigger than we initially thought. We learned this year that you can’t start thinking about the issues facing your community until you’ve figured out who is in your community. Communities often have important members that don’t get as much attention. That’s why we were so proud to start a brand new section, The Citizens of HKS. We loved hearing about Susan’s life, including her commute on the Red Line every day from her hometown of Dorchester (if you’re a transit policy nerd, we’re sure she has some great insights). And we found out that Djosa, who recently won the Sue Williamson Spirit Award for “significantly enhancing the student experience”, also happens to be a star footballer.
Sometimes, connection is giving. When you care about a community, you invest in it. Michaela’s thoughtful and timely curation of book recommendations written by female and LGBTQ+ authors, followed by a comfort reading list to help us socially connect when we’re physically apart, is a great example. We learned about giving from our generous and compassionate professors that scrambled to put together fantastic sessions for students whose March break plans had crumbled. And we learned about our extended community from Michelle, who called on us to give outside of HKS and donate blood at a time of critical shortage.
But sometimes, connection is hard. Sometimes it’s the uncomfortable realization that members of your community have different experiences than you do, even in the same physical space. We were reminded of this by Géraud who brought our attention to the fact that not all of our classmates are experiencing the pandemic in the same way, and called on us to stay away from letter grades if we could in an act of solidarity. We’re grateful to Yohana, Karl, and Danielle for highlighting some of the experiences of students of colour at the Kennedy School, teaching us valuable lessons on race that we will take with us to every facet of policymaking we are part of in the future.
And sometimes, connection is caring enough to disagree. As the world becomes more polarized, we are lucky to be part of a tradition of debate, dissent and disagreement. Many of us see the current limitations of a school like HKS, but we also see the potential. It is that aspiration that leads us to channel our love, energy and efforts into making it a better place. An essential part of that is being able to express disagreement, be heard, and not be attacked personally. That is why we revised our mission this year to include the following, “We strive to help the school achieve its own goal: to allow people to live safer, freer, and more prosperous lives.” As Charlene and Emily reminded us “professors fail to acknowledge that it is the public officials and politicians who have graduated from institutions just like this who are culpable for escalating and exacerbating this pandemic. If the Kennedy School misses its opportunity to reeducate students, there is nothing to prevent us from becoming just another generation of graduates that perpetuates historical fear mongering. We won’t solve the COVID-19 crisis; we’ll create more of them.”
Finally, connection often leads to action. When we covered the graduate student union strike, we simply wanted HKS students to be aware of what was happening. As part of our reporting, we published the names of the HKS faculty who had signed a Harvard-wide letter affirming that students who strike will not face any negative effects. After publication, with increased awareness and attention, a few more signed on to that letter. Our scrutiny of HKS’s over-reliant relations with donors was reported by the Business Insider as it laid out further ties between HKS and dubious donors, and the student organizing around it.
At its best, the Harvard Kennedy School is a deeply connected place. It is connected to the local communities it is a part of, putting into practice what it preaches. And it is connected by its students to communities around the world, finding parallels and shared wisdom between the unique challenges that are being confronted globally.
With connection comes understanding. With connection comes humility. With connection comes accountability. We hope that The Citizen has been able to make a small contribution to help strengthen connection in our community and hold ourselves and HKS a little more accountable.
We are eternally grateful for this community and its resilience. Thank you, to every single member of our HKS community: from the staff who keep our buildings clean and our stomachs fed, to the professors who have shared their expertise and first-hand wisdom, to the administrators who launched our HKS journey and ensured that we landed for our graduation, and to our fellow classmates who left us laughing, crying, and, very often, scratching our heads in bewilderment. But they always – always – left us thinking about the world a little differently, and a little deeper.
The Citizen Editorial Board
To Returning Students: Here’s What YOU Can Do
We hope this platform for connection continues to grow next year. But for that to happen, we need your help: for more stories of The Citizens of HKS, more recipes to share, and all the new opportunities that will emerge from the new connections created by the 2020-2021 HKS community.
The entire Editorial Board is graduating this year. We are still looking for the next year’s team, including editorial board members and a chief editor. If you’re interested in finding out more, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop-in to our Zoom info session on June 2nd from 6 pm to 7 pm EST [https://harvard.zoom.us/j/96357592256].
The time commitment depends on you, but typically ranges from 1-5 hours per week throughout the year, and you get to work with the knowledgeable and supportive Professor Richard Parker.