By Matthew Watson, MPSA 2015

As of the writing of this article, our great nation still has a proverbial billboard displaying the following message to the world at large: “American Government: Closed for Business.” President Barack Obama, Speaker of the House John Boehner and other key political figures are still engaged in a bitter standoff over the question on everyone’s mind: when will our government run again? This standstill, albeit not nearly as fierce or as consequential, reminds me of an issue here at the Bush School that we’ve all taken notice of over the last few weeks. To point out the obvious, there’s a large divide between the first and second-year classes – a gap that desperately needs to be bridged. And although there are some signs of a bridge being built already, the time has come for everyone to pitch in and contribute to its construction.

To hear the story of this gap at both the Bush School and in Washington might seem repetitive, for there are themes and elements in both stories that are far too similar to be mere coincidence. Two parties, both pursuing the same end goal, find themselves at an impasse as they seek to find common bonds and retain their unique identity. The general consensus within each party is that the other is to blame for this situation, and often for the same exact reasons (“they” only care about themselves and their own political future, “they” all dislike us so we won’t reach out to them as classmates.) People say that this gap has existed for years, but rarely without postulating that it has “never been this bad”.

Just as we’re experiencing severe consequences from the divisive political theatre being displayed in Washington, D.C., our very own Bush School is not as strong as a house divided. While I don’t entertain the idea that a gap between the first and second-years is nearly as serious as important governmental services being defunded, we can all agree that a united Bush School class is a much stronger one, which will ultimately make us all better public servants.

Although the gap between the first and second-year students undoubtedly exists, I have been fortunate to see instances of a potential change to come, particularly in my own experience. As I reflect upon the outstanding support, encouragement and fellowship I’ve been afforded by some of my second-year classmates in my short time at the Bush School, I’m reminded of a quote by arguably the most famous person from my great home state of Oklahoma, Will Rogers, when he said “I never met a man I didn’t like.” Whether by the virtue of good fortune or coincidence, second-year classmates such as Trey Sparks, Amber Stotts, Naaman Nakinola, Cait Stadler and Kehkashan Dadwani (as well as many others) have reached out to me and my fellow classmates, without being asked, to make our transition from “the real world” (sorry Dr. Bearfield) to the Bush School an outstanding one. I can speak with sincerity when I say I’ve never met a second-year I didn’t like. In terms of the first-year class, I know many of my outstanding colleagues have already reached out to the second-year class and found potentially life-long connections. Now comes the hard part: sharing it.

While I don’t have an answer for how our elected officials should bridge the gap in Washington, I do have an idea or two for how we can forge lasting bonds between the two classes. The Bush School has countless resources to bring us together. Student groups such as the diversity and social committees, the Public Service Organization, and others provide ample opportunities to create connections between the classes. In addition to this, we might make an effort to have significant attendance at monthly social, academic or service-based activities that allow for chances to connect. A first-second year partnering program based upon common interests, academic concentrations and civic service would go a long way towards bridging the gap. Simply, but perhaps most importantly, the most effective route may be to remember the following: although a classmate might have a different classification than you, the truth is that none of us are so different that we can’t benefit greatly from finding common bonds.

Some may call me naïve, overly optimistic, or just plain foolish to praise some of the names I did, suggest the ideas that I have, or to applaud the current level of camaraderie and support I’ve seen between the classes (even though it’s less than it should be). These people may call me what they wish; I simply call myself a Bushie. One might argue that this is just how it works; this is how the first and second-year classes always interact. Even if that’s how it has always worked, is that how it must continue to be?

We are not just a first-year class and a second-year class, we are the Bush School student body. This institution does not consist of just IAs and SAs, it consists of dedicated future public servants that all believe in the simple but powerful idea that public service is a noble calling, and our nation needs men and women of principle and character to lead it. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t believe in it. Now it’s time to make this divided house stand stronger than it ever has. It’s time to bridge the gap. Are you in?