I will never forget where I was when I found out that I had been hired as Generation Citizen’s new Operations Associate. Bryant Park was filled to the brim, and I had somehow picked my way through the crowd and was struggling to hear my phone over the beginnings of an outdoor film noir (Key Largo, I believe). I was convinced that I would end up hearing the usual consolations that attend an early-career job search, returning to Humphrey Bogart sorely disappointed. So when I was instead told that I had been selected for the position, I think it’s fair to say that I lost my cool. I remember apologizing to Scott, saying “I apologize if I’m acting like I just won the lottery, but I kind of feel like I did.”
Ridiculous reactions and apologies aside, having spent more time with GC I cannot shake the feeling that I did, in fact, win the lottery. Until very recently, I in no way intended to build a career in education or local politics. In college I studied international relations with the intent of becoming a diplomat in the Middle East. Meanwhile, I somehow fell into a lead coordinating position with a tutoring program at Swarthmore, working with children in neighboring Chester, PA. As time went on, the irony of what I was doing began to settle in. Here I was, spending all of my academic time studying how to promote education, democracy, and good governance in other countries – while witnessing the systematic failure of our state and federal legislators to provide for the community in Chester, PA. I began to feel a pervasive sense of hypocrisy. Coupled with the feeling that I was a hypocrite, I became acutely aware of my position as an outsider. I went to an excellent public high school in a primarily white community, in which I could take my pick of Advanced Placement courses and college prep materials. Whether or not I would go to college was never in question, not to mention whether my high school would even be open the next year (as it has been for students in Chester). As a result, I continuously began to feel that no matter what I decided to do, be it to work in other countries or in communities like Chester, I was approaching my work as someone who just wanted to help – with no experiential, visceral, understanding of the situation at hand. My elite education in no way qualified me to decide what the issues were and how to fix them, if anything, it made sustainable solutions even harder to access. In many ways, I felt as distant in my own life experiences from the children in Chester as I do from Palestinian refugees.
The product of this poorly timed internal strife was twofold. I began to feel strongly about the need for grassroots change in any and all contexts, and I chose to reorient towards studying and improving my own democracy; to actually practicing what we preach as a nation. If you’ve been waiting for it, this is where my sense that I won the lottery came in. No organization better represents the culmination of these struggles and decisions than Generation Citizen. Teaching students how to make their democracy work for them, by providing them with the tools and experience necessary to do so, is exactly the kind of work that I had hoped to be doing. I cannot wait to truly begin my work at this organization; learning from a nonprofit model that I believe in and admire, and allowing myself to learn from the work that we do and the students we serve.
– Michele Gugerli, GC Operations Associate
Generation Citizen is a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 tax exempt organization which does not endorse candidates; our goal is to engage our staff, participants, and stakeholders in political and civic action on issues that matter to them personally and in their communities. The opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the writer alone and do not reflect the opinions of Generation Citizen.