Last Friday, I found the nation’s future leaders and I was awestruck. I had the good fortune to spend the entire day on a selection panel for Truman Scholars, which provides financial support for graduate studies to promising young individuals who wish to pursue public service.
In the morning, before the interviews began, I told the candidates that I had found my eyes tearing up as I read their applications; in fact, one time this occurred to me on a plane ride across the nation, making me wonder if my seatmates thought I was having some kind of meltdown!
But here is what struck me most about these candidates: their passion – their zeal to engage with public life; their smart desire to make a difference; their ability at such a young age to have already done so much. They exuded a sense of idealism – the kind that makes you want to stand up and cheer.
Yes cheer… in this the age of retreat and skepticism in public life. If anyone questions where our nation’s future leaders will come from, I now know. I saw them last Friday. They are smart and energetic; idealistic but also pragmatic.
I count myself lucky to be able to say that I see two such young leaders each and every day in my office. One, Mike Wood, was himself a Truman Scholar and a native of West Virginia. Patrick Miller, from a small town in Wisconsin, is my research assistant, and graduated from Princeton. You can bet that these guys in their future will run for office or head up a nonprofit or lead an important public-spirited venture – or maybe take over The Harwood Institute.
I always hear people lamenting the lack of leadership in the country. We need to look in the right places to see it. Then we will stand up and cheer.