January 30, 2024
Last Thursday I had breakfast with a dozen or so GW alumni in New York. Most were SMPA alumni, one from GSPM, and there were one or two others. They ranged from someone who graduated last May, to others who graduated in the 1990s, and years in between. It was an informal event, some catching up with former students and some meeting people I’ve only heard about. Their favorite professors are your favorite professors. Your most rewarding (and challenging) classes were theirs. The alumni were happy to hear what’s new - and happy to hear that the core of our mission and approach are the same.
The formal program, to the extent there was one, was Nana Agyemang (SMPA ‘16) interviewing me about SMPA - “interviewing” should be in quotation marks, it wasn’t pro-wrestling but it was close. The questions from the audience weren’t always easy, and a few of my answers were “we need to do more, let’s find time to talk soon.”
The alumni were interested in two areas: the courses we’re teaching, and how we’re talking about hard issues. The economics and technology of journalism are changing rapidly - our alumni want to know we teach the skills you will need to succeed in whatever comes next. They also wanted to be sure you had an ethical grounding so that you can navigate these changes in ways that advance shared democratic ideals and values. The alumni also wanted to know how SMPA and GW are fostering honest conversations about hard issues - that we are having debates that can be partisan without being poisonous, that may make people uncomfortable, but that never make them feel unwelcome or unsafe.
I said we’re doing what we can with classes and opportunities, that ethics is a core of our journalism and political communication programs, and that fostering debate is what we do. I previewed President Granberg's new initiative, and talked about the Sesno Series, the upcoming event with FDA Commissioner Califf, the Campaigns & Elections series, and more. We’re not always going to get it right, but we’re going to keep trying.
For all the differences in age, interest and industry there was a shared commitment to you. The alumni want our courses to be rigorous and relevant, they want to be sure you are learning how to be good citizens as well as successful professionals, and they want to help you while you're on campus and when you go into whatever comes next.
To borrow a Basque saying, because they were we are, because we are they will be.
Onward into February.