We’ve reached the point when seniors reflect on their time at Yale, wax nostalgic about lessons learned and lament opportunities missed as a warning to those following in their steps. In an effort to squeeze all the significance we can out of our remaining time, we try to condense and conclude our experiences, and it’s all sincere, sentimental and totally necessary. But how about a reminder for the future? Let’s not forget to work for the common good.
The graduating class is headed toward all kinds of destinations and callings. Many of us will join TFA, others consulting, I-banking or grad school. Some may just go be bums back home for a while. It’s all good. But there’s one option which doesn’t seem to crop up as often as would be expected from the best and brightest: government. In the midst of floundering confidence in the American government, federal service doesn’t seem to have quite the draw it had back in the good old days when Yale practically ran the damn place.
How did this happen? At what point in history did Yale’s historic commitment to government service start to fade? Have political apathy and complacency replaced the activism and involvement of Yale’s yesteryear? I have no idea, and I’m graduating in a few weeks so I won’t start researching that question now. Either way, I ask graduating Elis, no matter where life takes you in the coming years, to be aware and open to the possibilities afforded by federal service.
The government is still our nation’s largest employer, with hundreds of thousands of positions that need to be filled in the coming years as the baby boomer generation retires. Federal pay is often competitive with the private sector, and the diversity of positions available is astounding. As Yale’s Federal Service Student Ambassador this past year, I’ve had the chance to talk to a lot of students about different opportunities in all domains and disciplines within government; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offers sweet jobs and internships messing around with sharks, for example. If finance is your thing, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) mobilizes private sector wealth and invests it in developing markets abroad to create prosperity overseas and jobs at home. Over the course of my year promoting and learning about different agencies, I’ve been consistently amazed at the breadth of work our government does.
Last summer, I was working for Voice of America, the external broadcasting agency of the United States. You may have read about it in your Cold War seminar because of the vital role it played in helping to bring down authoritarian communist regimes in Eastern Europe. It essentially showed Soviets how sweet democracy and freedom is by playing jazz. (Note: this is a slightly simplified version of what happened.) I was working on a project proposal for a journalist center in Haiti, and on a whim asked my boss if I could go; a week later I was in Port-au-Prince scouting locations for the center. The point of my story is that people think of government as a huge bureaucracy with rigid rules and regulations that dictate what you can or can’t do and how. Untrue. If you are intelligent and creative, as most Yalies are, you can do fulfilling, dynamic work.
You can also have a life. Work-life balance is emphasized in government, as evidenced by the popular options of working at home or working a certain amount of overtime during the week and taking a three-day weekend. Not to mention the significant benefits like school loan repayment programs, quality health coverage and on-site child care services.
Most importantly, though, government offers the opportunity to be where change is made. So much emphasis is placed on the social impact of non-profits and the private sector that it seems people have forgotten where the real locus of power resides. Our generation’s leaders need step up to the incredible responsibility of government. From my four years at Yale, I know this is where those leaders are formed. There are a lot of problems in our country and around the world that will fall to our generation to attack. Graduating seniors: it’s on us now. Go government.
Sam Miles is a senior in Berkeley College.