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At Conference, Students Consider Public Service Careers

2018 Public Interested Conference
Richard S. Kelley '10 speaks about his experiences working as a Senior Associate at the DC Affordable Law Firm during the 2018 Public Interested Conference on Saturday.
Undergraduates learned about the benefits of careers in public service at a conference held Sunday and attended by over 500 students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

Coordinated by the Phillips Brooks House for Public Service and Engaged Scholarship, the event—titled the Public Interested Conference—is a recent initiative the College debuted to encourage students to consider public sector jobs after graduation.

Kristen M. Clarke ’97, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, gave the keynote speech at the conference, arguing public service affords an important way to respond to the current political climate.

Clarke said the justice system should advance civil rights, but said the current presidential administration under Donald Trump “has done tremendous damage” to the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division instead.

She said she was particularly concerned by actions Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken regarding affirmative action policies at universities across the United States, including the Department of Justice’s ongoing investigation into Harvard’s admissions practices. Clarke called Sessions's behavior a “national attack.”

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“It’s important that we stand up and fight for principles that lie at the heart of our democracy,” Clarke said. “I believe that we have an obligation to make sure that the generation behind us inherits a world that is better than what we have today.”

Many students said they appreciated the existence of a public service-oriented conference like Sunday's conference, the likes of which did not take place at Harvard until 2012.

Mo Kim ’18 said hearing from alumni who are involved in public service—especially hearing about how “they found themselves on the path that they’re on right now”—was helpful.

"[Alumni] talked very openly about their struggles and some of the challenges that they faced,” Kim said.

Just seven percent of the College’s Class of 2017 went on to careers in government, military service, nonprofits, or nongovernmental organizations, according to a survey from the Office of Career Services. Conference attendee Ryan R. Hatch ’18 said he finds that figure “shocking.”

“I was surprised to find out that a lot of people weren’t into it,” Hatch said. “It was really amazing to see and hear all of these amazing, inspiring people coming together.”

“There’s a lot of focus—and a lot of pressure—for students to go into the private sector and into finance and consulting, so it was really cool to be able to have a conference this big,” Mia L. Bladin ’18 said. “It’s not something that you hear about as often.”

—Staff writer Simone C. Chu can be reached at simone.chu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @simonechu_.

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