October 31, 2023
Happy Halloween - I expect pictures and stories of political-themed costumes that SMPAers will think are funny or worthy of loud eye-rolls, and that no one else will get.
This has been quite the week on campus, in Congress and around the world. This coming week will likely be at least as equally challenging. Less noticed are the quiet, personal moments.
Last Thursday, Professor Shanto Iyengar was on campus to receive the Robert M. Entman Award in Democracy and Political Communication. SMPA Professor Emeritus Entman ended his distinguished career here in SMPA, and Stanford University’s Professor Iyengar is one of the most respected political communication scholars of the past half century. We arranged meals, conversations and talks for Prof. Iyengar. At the end of it all, we had a small dinner and presented Prof. Iyengar with the formal award.
As the director of SMPA, it made sense for me to do the presentation. But it didn’t feel right. My connection to Prof. Iyengar is mostly my grad school copy of his co-authored book News That Matters. At pretty close to the last minute, I asked Professor Steven Livingston if he would do the honors. Prof. Livingston and Prof. Iyengar have known each other for decades, both are senior political communication scholars, and both are close to Prof. Entman.
When I dropped by Prof. Livingston’s office to spring the last minute request, he pulled two copies of News That Matters off his shelf, one of which Prof. Iyengar signed for him decades ago. Fresh out of his doctoral program and not yet at GW, Livingston was invited to attend a meeting of senior political communication scholars, one of whom was Prof. Iyengar, who signed a copy of his landmark work for the young scholar.
After a full day of talks and meals and conversations, after a formal presentation, as the event was breaking up, Prof. Livingston asked Prof. Iyengar to sign the book again, under the first signature. They were both beaming. Two senior scholars, one whose career arc is nestled inside the arc of the other, sharing something that neither could have predicted. In all the mayhem of the week, the stress and uncertainty on campus and off, exams and classes and politics and news, there was a moment decades in the making and shared by two old friends.
This was one of the many small moments that made last week. There was also your classmate who got her first byline in a national publication, the political science major who dropped by my office to let me know she got into SMPA, laughing with the GWTV crew who were trying to record a promotional TikTok, the graduate student who stopped to talk for a moment on the street, and more. These little moments, cracks in the chaos through which light shines, are what make a good week.
I look forward to more cracks, more unexpected light - and pictures of only at SMPA Halloween costumes.