In November 2000, Richard M.J. Maopolski ’14 watched mesmerized as candidate George W. Bush battled his way to the White House. Maolpolski was hooked. From then on, campaigns and politics fascinated him. As television clips showed the president stand amidst the rubble of the Twin Towers on September 11, Maopolski’s own politics were cemented. From 2001, he supported President Bush.
These political tendencies and his interest in the presidency continued up to the 2004 election. While other 13 year olds spent their nights watching Cartoon Network, Maopolski spent his scanning the polls.
But, starting in 2006, Maolpolski’s views began to shift. Influenced by the politics of Robert F. Kennedy ’48 and the anti-war movement, Maopolski began to question his own support for Bush. One event confirmed this reversal: Maopolski saw Obama open a Monday Night Football game with the Bears, and Obama’s style immediately engaged him. He began to campaign for Obama by canvassing and attending rallies.
“I thought he would do what was best for our generation in the long run,” Maopolski said, speaking from Scranton, Pa., where he is taking time off from Harvard to work on his start-up company, OpptIn. Maolpolski plans to return to Harvard next semester.
Enthusiasm for politics is hardly uncommon among Harvard students. Maopolski’s aspirations fit into a long and illustrious tradition: eight U.S. presidents graduated from Harvard College, law school, or business school. Both current presidential candidates hold Harvard degrees. But Maopolski’s story illustrates the erratic path behind the polish of the classic politician’s story—though he has always maintained an interest in politics, his political beliefs themselves have varied drastically through the years.
Still, Maopolski’s general passion for all things political continued through the beginning of his freshman year, when he began to talk to classmates about the possibility of extending their interest in politics. Rumors circulating around the organization dubbed it the “Presidents’ Club.”
Though Maopolski did not exactly create an exclusive association for future presidents, he did bring together professors and students in the first part of his time at Harvard, in the hopes of creating a space for political dialogue. “The best thing we did was sort of get together with different professors to have conversations,” he said.
“We just spent time talking about this stuff,” he added, “and not just who wants to be in political office, but about journalism, media, and everything.” Maopolski supplemented these conversations with classes with Professors Roger B. Porter and Carlos E. Diaz Rosillo, which increased his awareness of foreign policy and the economy. Working with Diaz, Maopolski began to do research on the National Security Directives from John F. Kennedy’s term up to that of George W. Bush. The Institute of Politics provided a further space for his opinions to develop.
This involvement provoked yet another shift in Maopolski’s political opinions. “My politics hit a brick wall again,” said Maopolski, “when I ended up in the classroom with several Obama professors and chased down by health care lobbyists.” Harvard’s liberal reputation, as well as discussions with professors about issues facing America, contributed to Maopolski’s growing disillusionment with Obama.
“I became very numb to it all,” he said, “and wondered if the whole system was broken and my dream job was actually a curse.”
Such frustrations with the political system eventually led Maopolski to pinpoint his disenchantment in the environment of extreme liberals—not moderates or conservatives. He began, instead, to piece together an independent ideology.
Maopolski was conflicted, though, because of his own experience growing up with a single parent. “I grew up in public schools, a few years of government housing, and even government health care,” he said, “but I realized no amount of money can guarantee a student or citizen the ability to take responsibility for themselves.”
He added, “There needs to be help, but I saw far too much abuse.”
Maopolski had been working for the Obama campaign since December 2011. After two months on the trial, and re-formulating his own beliefs once again, he quit the campaign.
However, politics is still never far from Maopolski’s thoughts. He wants to attendgraduate school, possibly a combination of business or law. But he is certain that Washington D.C. will be his final destination, whatever the position—and whatever the party.
“Will I run for office?” Maopolski said. “I’ve always thought about it.” He added, “Is that the only thing I could do in life? No.”
Still, Maopolski admitted, “I would be lying to you if I didn’t say that I haven’t dreamt about the presidency since I was ten.”