Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Want to Learn

Two weeks. Seventy students. And an endless thirst for knowledge.

That is how I'd like to sum up the Grand Strategy program. Two weeks of hard work, insanity, a cappella, friction, philosophy, diplomacy, policy making, debating, writing, judicial decisions, good friends, great memories, and so, so much more. But I can't really write about this as one huge blurb -- so I will try to break it up as best as I can.

First Week

There was no reprieve, no real icebreaker period, no quarter for relaxation at the beginning of the program. With my cohort, I was thrust immediately into Clausewitz's fog of war. Well, to be more precise, Robert McNamara's Fog of War, a documentary discussing the decisions former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara made during his tenure. Afterwards, Nick led a discussion about the morality of dropping the atom bomb, the ambiguity of morality, and the shapelessness of the greater good. Now, keep in mind, this was the very first day, the day I arrived, met people, and unpacked. And this was just the tip of the iceberg.

The rest of the first week went by incredibly slow. Lecture after lecture, seminar after seminar, I noted how much more sluggish time seemed to pass by in New Haven. But I didn't mind, not one bit. This kind of work, this flavor of discussion, was exactly my forte. Granted, for a good portion of lectures and seminar, I was not as well-versed in the background material like some of my counterparts (for example, one of my suitemates and several other students were already familiar with Western philosophy -- Kant, Nietszche, Hume, Bentham, and so on), but I was happy enough to learn. There was so much to learn from everyone, so much to obtain, and the wonderful part about it was that everyone there worked to be there -- because they wanted to learn and push themselves intellectually. That amazed me.

As the week passed, I also met my Marshall Brief group and familiarized myself with my group members. We spent hours on end researching our topic and refining our initial policies. I have to admit, I have never once considered looking at US relations with regional alliances before, but nevertheless, it was just another topic my group and I would have to brush up on. And while there were some snags along the way, we worked out a strong policy -- certainly innovative in terms of the economic portion (thanks to one of our brilliant group members). Maybe it wasn't the best in the end, but I was proud of it when we sent in our report.

To keep this all in perspective, this was all just within the first week. Normally, I would think that being so loaded with information and work would have caused myself or anyone to go mad. But everyone coped and worked hard. Sure, there wasn't much sleep in between the dorm room laughs and the first lecture in the morning by an ambassador or vaunted law professor, but as much as that bothered me at the time, it honestly did not feel like a hindrance. It was just another one of those things each of us had to pay in exchange for education and intellectual stimulation.

Second Week

The second week started off with a bang -- Marshall Brief edits. Looking at the flood of blue marks on the policy brief discouraged me initially, but it also encouraged my group and myself to work even harder to refine the piece. When the due date came, we were minutes away from the submission deadline and still looking at the policy brief -- the culmination of three days of nonstop refinement. We worked out many of the kinks in our policy and while not managing to fix every little error, the brief still came out just fine.

But the Marshall Brief was not the only assignment. In the first week it dominated, but as the second week came along, we had much more work on the side. Writing assignments (as I had managed to get in the writing seminar series), written court decisions, and speech-giving accentuated the experience. Granted, two of those three things were optional, but why waste the opportunity to become better at writing or at speech-giving? And despite missing Dr. Strangelove, I can't say I regretted any of it. On a side, I even got called on to defend my court decision, which made me very happy.

The second week culminated in the Marshall Brief presentation. Each group would have to present their topic to the Murder Board, made up of staff members playing various government figures who were ready to chew out students. I am very glad to say that while we were chewed out, the carnage was not bad at all. We answered most, if not all of the questions with strong responses and we all knew our material well. I felt that it really showed how our teamwork improved over the week.


With the Marshall Brief behind us, my friends and I went out for frozen yogurt and celebrated through the night. Finally, all that hard work was finished. And we did quite well too. I can't say I'd ever been both more relieved and more saddened. Relieved by the conclusion of the paramount challenge of the program, and saddened by the fact that it meant that everything was over, or close to it.

When I was saying my goodbyes through that whole thing, I had gone over in my head how much I wish I learned some of the things the students here already knew -- classical philosophy, foreign relations, political science -- everything that seemed to beckon to me that I only ever got tastes of from school. Maybe if I had known these things, I could have done better, but at the end of the day, I was glad. Glad that I got to learn a lot more than I ever thought even existed about these topics. Glad that I met amazingly talented people, people who were brilliant in every way imaginable. And glad that I made some amazing memories the whole way through.

When I first learned about the ILC, I never thought that this kid from West Contra Costa would get to argue morality and justice with some of the great minds and future leaders of the world. Having gone through that now, I see glimpses of where we can all be, of the brilliance that lies out there in the big bad world.

Now, I want to seek it out and learn from it. Just like I did here.

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