Do Lunch with Michael Gerson

This week Michael Gerson, columnist for The Washington Post and former top aid, head speechwriter, and senior policy advisor for the George W. Bush administration, came to Duke for a potpourri of events.  One of the programs he participated in was a Do Lunch.  Do Lunches provide an opportunity for undergraduates to engage, on an informal basis with practitioners from diverse backgrounds.  All Do Lunches typically follow the same schedule: an overview of the practitioner’s life and career path, and a question and answer session.

The Gerson Do Lunch was held in the newly-dedicated Ahmadieh Family Conference Room at Kenan.  Everyone was seated in an intimate rectangle.  Each student introduced themselves to the group.  There was a great mix of grade levels and also diversity of student interests.

Gerson proceeded to talk about his life during the past thirty years.  He talked about his time studying theology and philosophy at Wheaton College, after which he worked for a Prison Fellowship Ministry.  He next moved to Capitol Hill as a legislative aid for a decade, where he worked on “compassionate conservatism.”  More recently, Gerson is a columnist for The Washington Post.  He also is a policy fellow for the ONE Campaign, an international non-partisan advocacy and campaigning organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable diseases, particularly in Africa.

A commonality that many practitioners highlight is the nonlinear trajectory they had to get to where they currently are, or to where they are going.  It is pretty standard for Do Lunch speakers to have worked at multiple jobs in a variety of fields.  This flexibility of career movement is reassuring for a recent graduate who worries about what road to start on and whether it may be the right choice.

In movies, there are pivotal turning points that shape the rest of the film.  Gerson spoke about getting a call from George W. Bush to write his announcement speech as a presidential candidate, and subsequently Bush’s speech as he accepted the Republican nomination for the presidency.  While I cannot speak for Gerson, I could only imagine this was one of those movie-like momentous opportunities that shaped the rest of his life.  It opened the door to work on key global health initiatives such as the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR).  It was clear from Gerson’s passionate discussion of these two Presidential initiatives that he had found his vocation working on global health projects.  Moreover, he was genuinely proud of the positive impact his contribution to these initiatives had made.

After the Do Lunch with Michael Gerson, I reflected on all the decisions I made during my undergraduate time at Duke University that I did not realize were pivotal at the time, but were life changing: trying out Focus at Kenan, getting involved with MASTERY, participating in DukeImmerse LEAPED, conducting research on Korean adoptions.  All these led me to the fellowship that I now hold at Kenan, a wonderful opportunity that I am sure will open even more unexpected doors to my future.   I look forward to the serendipitous career changes ahead.