Last weekend more than 100 alumni, students, and faculty members gathered in the nation’s capital to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hamilton’s Washington, D.C., Program. The two-day event started off with a welcome reception Friday night at the Jones Day law firm. By 7 p.m., the room swelled with alumni who had returned to share their stories about how the program influenced their education, career development, and lasting friendships.
After mingling with former and current students and faculty, the attendees were welcomed by U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright ’83, P’15. He reminisced on his experiences as a Hamilton student and how they inform him in his current role as a Pennsylvania Representative and co-chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.
Cartwright recalled that Elliot Richardson, attorney general for President Richard Nixon, was Hamilton's commencement speaker the year he graduated. The congressman highlighted this experience relevant to today's question on impeaching President Trump. He also spoke about his new role next term as chairman of the Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee of Appropriations, which funds research on issues related to climate change.
“We give preference in my office to interns from Hamilton College, because I never forget what Hamilton did for me, and I can see very plainly before me what it did for all of you,” Cartwright said.
The next morning, attendees met at the Council on Foreign Relations for breakfast before attending discussion panels of alumni in various career fields.
The substance of what I got introduced to on the semester program really carried over through my career.
The first panel comprised current government faculty who have been involved in the DC program: Alan Cafruny, Gbemende Johnson, Sharon Rivera, and Philip Klinkner, the program's current director. Dean of Faculty Suzanne Keen moderated the discussion on how the program has contributed to the experiences of Hamilton students.
Faculty members discussed the range of topics their classes cover in the DC program, from foreign policy to bureaucratic failure to counter-terrorism. Klinkner described how alumni have contributed to the success of the program.
“I think one of the best parts for me, and I think for the students, are the speakers we have who are almost all alumni,” he said.
Some alumni speakers in the current program include George Baker ’74, principal at Williams & Jensen, and Mike Dubke ’92, P'19 former White House communications director.
Faculty also detailed some of the class outings they have taken with their students, such as trips to Washington Nationals games, Mount Vernon, or Supreme Court hearings. “The D.C. program is academically serious, but we also make sure to have fun as a group, and we try to create a meaningful experience that students will remember for the rest of their lives,” said Rivera.
The next panel comprised alumni who have careers in public service and was led by Paddy McGuire ’81, P’11, Mason County (Wash.) auditor and election consultant. It included Amy Greenan ’04, consultant with CENTRA Technology, Arthur Rynearson ’71, former deputy legislative counsel of the U.S. Senate, and Molly Voigt ’15, state legislative manager at Giffords Courage to Fight Gun Violence.
The panelists discussed how their government internships on the DC program directly influenced their career paths. Rynearson credited the experience for inspiring him to write his book, Legislative Drafting Step-by-Step.
“The substance of what I got introduced to on the semester program really carried over through my career,” he said. “My internships really were life-changing, game-changing experiences for me and most clearly brought me to Washington on a permanent basis.”
Voigt discussed her experiences working to address gun violence at Giffords following the Parkland Shooting. “Working for Gabby Giffords has been so inspiring; she’s amazing,” she said. “I’ve really seen a straight line in my career starting with the DC program, and I fell in love with D.C.”
Greenan discussed how the general change in setting from small-town Clinton, N.Y., to the nation’s capital had been advantageous on its own.
“I wasn’t afraid to try new experiences; I didn’t just stay constrained to people in the Hamilton DC program,” she said. “I made friends with other interns and colleagues that really opened things up for me and made my experience richer.”
The next panel was on lobbying careers, led by George Baker ’74, principal at Williams and Jensen. He asked the panel to speak on a variety of issues, such as money in politics, the rise of communications in lobbying strategies, and challenges women face in government professions.
“We have three women [on the panel] here today. I’d like to hear their observations about how they feel about women in the government affairs lobbying world now, and on Capitol Hill, and their opportunities, their responsibilities, how it’s grown, and where it is today,” Baker asked.
Christina Pearson ’95, the senior director of public relations at Microsoft Corp., detailed her past experiences as a Congressional communications assistant, where she was routinely reminded to apply lipstick and chastised for wearing pantsuits. She acknowledged that DC has come a long way since then, but that there is still a long way to go.
“We need more elected officials who are women and more who are in those top jobs,” Pearson said.
The final panel was on the topic of careers in communications featuring Olivia Waxman ’11, Time magazine staff writer, Mike Dubke ’92, P’19, former White House communications director, and Niels Lesniewski ’07, senior senate staff writer at CQ Roll Call. This panel discussed the role of Twitter in media and how the Internet in general has revolutionized the spread of information.