Law, Public Service & Cherry Blossoms: Final Thoughts on D.C.
Well, here we are. It’s now April 2015, the final month that I’m in our nation’s capital. Rather than recount everything that has happened to me in the past few weeks since my last post, I’d like to reflect on my time here and things that I’ve learned. But first, an obligatory aside about the cherry blossoms.
For the folks at home, Washington, D.C. isn’t just known for scandal, polarization, and drivers that honk their horns as if it were a necessary bodily function. One of the more positive aspects of D.C. is the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival. If you’re really interested, you can learn more here. In a nutshell: our friend and ally Japan gave us a gift of 3,000 cherry blossom trees over one hundred years ago to celebrate our relationship. Every year around this time (for only about two weeks at that!), the trees bare their beautiful pink blossoms and mark the arrival of springtime. Hundreds of thousands of people flock to D.C. annually to take part in the festivities and take selfies with the cherry blossom trees. I’m only half joking about that last part. Fun fact: picking the blossoms of the tree is illegal, so don’t even think about it!
As I write, I’m considering three big questions. First: Do I ever want to come back to work in D.C.? Coming to D.C. for political science majors is something of an academic pilgrimage. We study government—typically Congress and the President—so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that political science majors thrive here. Nevertheless, I’m unsure if I ever want to come back to work here. I have loved my time here, and I have been graced with working at a fabulous think tank like the American Enterprise Institute. Public policy has been one of my passions since picking it up as a minor a few years ago, so I’m happy that I got to put my education to work in an organization whose sole purpose is to generate new ideas and policies. However, it’s frustrating to know that good public policy can die in Congress if enough people threaten it. Such was the case of the Student Success Act, which was poised to rectify the failing No Child Left Behind. Do I really want to devote my life to making and advocating policies that will go nowhere in a polarized legislature? I think that question answers itself. Maybe a career in law here would be better for me. That’s a perfect segue into my next question, actually.
Second: Have my goals changed? For the last few years of my life, I’ve been grappling with the perennial and existential concern about going to law school. I could provide dismal statistics about law school graduates, but suffice it to say that it’s not something to be entered into lightly. My experience with local government during my college career has been a countervailing force against going to law school, and I have seriously considered a career in public service that doesn’t require a J.D. Finally, I came to D.C. to dip my toes into the policy world, which is something I’ve considered a career in as well. Thus, it’s been hard for me to reconcile these competing life trajectories. However, I think that my goal, after completing this program, is to return home to beautiful Orange County and work in local government for a year before going off to law school. With a law degree, I could follow any of these three paths (law, local government, policy). It might even be possible to do all three at the same time. Without one, I’m afraid of hitting a ceiling in terms of how far I could progress. After a few years of torturously weighing these competing perspectives, I think I’m making the right decision.
Finally: Was it all worth it? I braved snow, subzero temperatures, illness, sleepless nights, and being away from both my girlfriend and family back home and my friends at Berkeley to be a lowly intern in D.C. I certainly didn’t have to enroll in the UCDC program, since I completed all of my academic requirements last year. So was this all worth it? You bet it was. There are any number of things I could talk about here. New friends, policy experience, informational interviews, amazing sights, the East Coast perspective. The list goes on. But ultimately, I don’t think I can adequately articulate why I think these past three months have been so valuable for me. It was a growing experience, certainly, but there was something more to it—an ineffable quality that escapes me. It’ll come to me after this has been posted, I guarantee it.
It’s been an honor and a pleasure to work in the nation’s capital. It’s hard to believe three months have already gone by so quickly! But it’s time for me to mosey on back to beautiful, sunny, (and drought-stricken) California where I belong. Peace out, Washington.
Brandon Wong is a senior at UC Berkeley, studying political science and public policy. He is currently interning with the American Enterprise Institute as a Matsui Washington Fellow.