Windswept, wet, and none the worse for wear, the 21 students of Fall 2011 are here, and they are fantastic. Hailing from California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Vermont, they have already distinguished themselves by their enthusiasm, conviviality, and thoughtfulness.
Our two new dormitories–with a remarkable view of the Capitol from the front yard–are also here. More spacious and just as cozy as our previous location, they are quickly becoming a home away from home.
Saturday’s hurricane provided us with an opportunity to grow closer right away, and the bright laughter and conversation that bounced through the hallways throughout the day showed that no one was catching cabin fever. Luckily we were spared the worst of the storm, and Norah’s tasty organic salad and chicken fried rice was just the right touch. After dinner, the students embarked on their first academic session of the semester. The students watched live CNN coverage of the attacks of September 11, 2001 (much of the coverage is available online; click here and watch through President Bush’s remarks) and then held a serious and insightful conversation about the meaning of the day and its relevance to their work at SEGL. (Many of you know that SEGL was founded as a result of my teaching experience post-September 11th.)
On Saturday we enjoyed a brunch of pancakes, bacon, and eggs, and then took our first trip to the SEGL Academic Building in Dupont Circle. After a discussion about what makes an effective leader and what makes an effective teammate (“a lot of the same things,” one student sagely reflected at the end of the conversation), the students split into three groups and rotated through four group leadership challenges: a blindfolded minefield walk, trust falls (everyone did this successfully), a meaningful “reach for your goal” exercise, and a tricky spiderweb challenge. Each group was successful in its own way, and we hope the insights students gained about collaboration and leadership will carry with them throughout the term.
After the leadership exercises, students met with their advisors for the first time, walked to the local drugstore to purchase any needed supplies, downed slices of pizza, and then settled in for our opening caucus. This opening ceremony includes a reflective exercise that becomes their first journal entry of the semester.
On Monday morning, after our first morning meeting (which I ended, according to tradition, with the opening lines from Shakespeare’s Henry V), we had our first Ethics and Leadership class of the semester. For much of the block period, students participated in another SEGL tradition, “The Infamous Skittles Scenario,” which will resonate in many ways over the course of the semester (to read the handout the students received, click here). A strong discussion followed, with musings about human nature, the role of government, and selfishness and altruism. I then delivered a lecture entitled “Ethics: An Introduction,” which will be available on YouTube shortly.
The first day of classes–indeed, the first days of the semester–seem to be an auspicious beginning to an important semester. In the coming days, we will embark on our first field visit of the semester: to The Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress for a conversation with Egil “Bud” Krogh, the former Nixon White House official famous for his role as Director of the “Plumbers.” Bud is an SEGL favorite, and I look forward to sharing more about our visit (as well as our other speaker, Linda Jamison), very soon.