Gale: “Why I Keep Coming Back to TSLW”

galeFor years I’ve been honored
to come back to Truman Scholars Leadership Week (TSLW) as a Senior Scholar, and
inevitably some of the incoming Truman Scholars always ask, “Why do you keep
coming back?”

Their intent is never to
insinuate that I’m crazy; it’s mere, adorable curiosity, and it’s a fair
question. Senior Scholars have careers and commitments, and many of us spend
our spare hours at TSLW catching up on the work we left behind. The bottom line
is that our commitment to public service transcends our professional careers,
and it includes giving back to the larger Truman community.

Coming back is an absolute
delight. Nothing keeps you motivated like a hit of Truman Scholars. The new
class has an incredible energy every year, and you return home more motivated
to serve and with a wonderful set of stories and new dance moves. The moves
have been getting more challenging every year though. I completely failed to
master the art of “smanging” during TSLW 2011, but the dance lessons at my
local studio are working wonders so far.

We learn and grow more from
the incoming Scholars than anything they collectively get from us. Being
amongst Truman Scholars is a special setup. Not since Summer Institute could I
banter with the people around me about the seemingly inane policy topics I hold
dear – my favorite from TSLW 2010 was a riveting discussion on fecal
contamination from ranching and the potential for zoonotic diseases as an
environmental justice concern – only then to rush across the room to a game of
“Mafia” about to start. Everyone brings such wonderful knowledge and
experiences. Once Tara Yglesias (PA ‘93), the beloved figurehead of TSLW and
Deputy Executive Secretary of the Truman Foundation, course corrects everyone
with the “you’re all ‘special little snowflakes’” routine, you can learn a lot
from just the casual chatter.

The only people I learn more
from while at TSLW every year are the other Senior Scholars. I’ve had the
pleasure to get to know a gang-busting attorney, distinguished educators,
political geniuses, and a whole lot of amazing public servants. They are at the
top of their fields for their age, but what’s more striking is their sense of
character and good humor.

The other question I get a
lot from the incoming class is, “Do the Senior Scholars talk about us?” The
answer is “Yes, absolutely.” Truman Scholars are such interesting people, and
you deserve to be discussed. Every class has its own collective personality and
cast of characters from year to year.

Madeleine Albright, President
of the Truman Foundation, once commented to me that her time as Secretary of
State was somewhat akin to running a zoo, and there’s probably a comparison to
be made to TSLW. In my years though as a “keeper” at TSLW, I’ve never seen the
animals throwing excrement at each other or anything like that, but there are
sometimes discussions amongst the “keepers” about which animals might be
courting and whether or not they’ve been fed enough the night of the Hunger
Banquet. In all honesty though, we spend the vast majority of our time talking
about how wonderful everyone is while laughing at the constant hilarity
emanating from the Truman Foundation staff, the Scholars, and each other.

For future Truman Scholars
and others who are curious about what really
happens at TSLW:

  • If a Senior Scholar makes fun
    you, it means that we respect and love you… honestly
  • Yes, the Senior Scholars get
    disappointed in Scholars when they break the rules and act like 20 year olds
    (even though they are)
  • Senior Scholars do socialize
    outside of the TSLW schedule and beyond the William Jewell Campus, but we’re
    allowed to
  • The Senior Scholars don’t
    actually have “favorites” – we don’t care enough to make the effort of crafting
    lists
  • There are such things as
    boundaries, no matter how much you want to dance with your favorite Senior
    Scholar
  • The only expectation of
    Senior Scholars for their policy groups is to not be embarrassed by them
  • There are even more snacks
    for Senior Scholars stashed away in the basement
  • We will “tweet” the hilarious things Scholars say 😉

Michael Gale (WV ’02) co-coordinates the Conserving the Future vision
process for the National Wildlife Refuge System (www.AmericasWildlife.org). Follow
him on Twitter @generationwild. 

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