Over the course of my Mitchell year, I read two books that encapsulate some key wisdom I gained from my time in Ireland. In the Knowledge Illusion, the researchers remind readers of a lesson we too often forget; humans know less than we think and we need a community of knowledge, skills, and experiences to function well and do good. In Essentialism, the author urges individuals to pursue less and focus on our specific passions and expertise.
This year, I have done a number of things at Trinity College Dublin that will shape my life. But most importantly, my fellow Mitchell Scholars have brought these books to life. Each of the Mitchells excels in different areas – music, philosophy, policy, service, and more. We are privileged. As we have lived in and traveled around Ireland exchanging stories and opinions, they have confirmed the worthwhile challenge of collective learning, productive friction, interdependence, and focus.
From day one, Fatou, Cameron and I – the Trinity Trio – have made new friends, lent a helping hand, and discussed pressing issues. I have learned so much from them about how to think about social norms, to care about justice deeply, and to stand up to power. Fatou shines at being unabashedly bold and constructively critical. Cam shines at thinking deeply about the systems we inhabit and embracing hard discussions.
Jackson, Shauna, and Celia – the UCD contingent – have helped me understand the power of planning, ambition, and steadfast commitment. Jackson shines at using his skills to help others and reach his goals, all while having fun watching Duke basketball (Wahoowa). Shauna shines at organizing schedules and people, and at putting her passions into action. Celia shines at committing to perfect her craft humbly, and at being an unfailing friend.
Chris and Ted – the DCU duo – and Alexander – the Maynooth scholar – showed me the consequence of persistent engagement with scientific inquiry, social justice, and podcasts. Chris shines at distilling complex information into a digestible message and translating knowledge into change. Ted shines at knowing the happenings de jour and contributing through an intentional routine. Alexander shines at challenging harmful status quos and reminding us to act.
Anji, James, and Hadley – the UCC crew – taught me the value of following our passions to serve others while taking time to soak up the life around us. Anji shines at prioritizing others and making sure she is present wherever she is. James shines at sharing his joy for music and bringing a creative perspective. Hadley shines at using her research to help her community and bringing a spirit of laughter and fun competition.
While I could say much more, my point is that we have each brought different perspectives, strengths, and weaknesses to this year: intellect, effort, compassion, organization, reflection, spontaneity, and so on. As I have walked alongside my friends, I honed my own focus while also learning from and relying on others. I have taken Oscar Wilde’s words to heart: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” But I am challenged in that self – and strive to help others do the same.
Going forward, whether I am working on U.S.-Ireland relations, promoting global anti-corruption reform, or solving challenges facing American communities, I will remember my Mitchell friends. They make me and this world better. The Irish Emigration museum, dedicated to the history of Irish people around the globe, leaves its visitors with a simple message: Every Person is Connected. Indeed, we cannot forget where we come from or to whom we are connected. It is those connections – especially the ones that make us uncomfortable – that have given my year in Ireland its meaning and potential. And they shine.