Like one of the athletes in a Nike commercial, junior Ara Friedman has embraced the “Just Do It” philosophy in her approach to learning about political science. And as a result, Ara—like the sports figures who wear Nikes in the ads—has turned what could be a difficult, rigorous, and exhausting exercise into something very exciting and invigorating.
Ara began attending Randolph as a sophomore transfer student and, on her first day of class, was introduced to someone who would be instrumental in helping to ignite her passion for studying public policy and affecting social change. Professor David Schwartz, Ph.D., opened his Ethics and Public Life class by posing the question “What is our responsibility with regard to world hunger?”
According to Friedman, “Professor Schwartz has a unique ability to not show a bias for a particular side of an issue. He teaches by passionately arguing each side from a philosophical point of view.”
That was Ara’s first encounter with Schwartz, but it was just the beginning of what has become an ongoing mentor/mentee relationship that has had a significant impact on Ara’s college experience.
The first time Ara interacted with Schwartz outside of the classroom was after receiving an invitation from the Young Democrats to attend a pre-election fundraiser. Professor Schwartz is the faculty advisor for the organization. Ara later worked alongside Schwartz while canvassing in Virginia for Jim Webb in his successful run for the U.S. Senate in 2006.
“You sometimes find yourself in situations with people over and over again.” says Friedman. “It was during those activities that we began talking more and more about politics, and he mentioned the Sorenson summer program.”
The Sorensen College Leaders Program brings together students from across the state to study the mechanisms of Virginia politics and policy and to learn to be more active citizens. Professor Schwartz wrote a letter of recommendation for Ara, who not only completed the program, but gained one of the highest honors, the Spirit of Citizenship Award, presented to students who exhibit a commitment to the ideals of public service and civic engagement as well as outstanding participation inside and outside of the classroom.
Ara feels that her participation in Sorenson helped a great deal in paving the way for her next experience—working for Senator Jim Webb’s office in Washington, D.C., as a part of the American University Washington Semester Program. The program blends the traditional academic environment with experiential learning, offering approximately 400 students from throughout the United States and the world the rare opportunity to live, work, and learn in Washington, D.C.
“For me it’s been a dream come true to go to work on Capitol Hill and to be in this environment,” says Friedman, “particularly during such an eventful election year.”
She recalls one particularly exciting time, “It was right before Super Tuesday, when Senator Ted Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama. I had been here for less than a month, and there were those two on my doorstep. Almost everyone in my class attended. It has been an incredible experience, and I hate to see it end!”
Ara seems destined to one day return to Capitol Hill. “I thought moving to the Capitol was going to get it out of my system,” says Friedman, “but instead I’ve become addicted. There is something about the Hill that makes you just want more… it’s not about the money or the level of responsibility, but it’s about feeling like a part of the process.”
Ara has politics “in her blood.” Her father was a career federal government civil servant who fostered her interest in political science from a very young age. Sadly, Ara’s father, Charles Friedman passed away suddenly after the end of her first semester. Ara is very appreciative of her mentor Professor Schwartz who she says, “was a great motivator for me to get through the next semester.”
Ara’s father would no doubt be extremely proud to see how his daughter is translating their shared political interest into actions, both on and off of campus. When Ara returns to Randolph in the fall, she will be the new Student Government Association (SGA) president. What does Ara hope to accomplish? “I look at being SGA president as an opportunity to bring together the different classes. It’s been a rough transition at Randolph,” says Friedman, “and although I may not have chosen this path for the school, I understand why they took it. Now we have to move forward and make the best of it, and I hope I can be involved in that transition.”
Whatever Ara decides to do, it is clear that her experiences have equipped her with the tools she needs to succeed. After graduation, Ara hopes to work in politics, pursuing a Ph.D. in public policy and becoming a professor, no doubt incorporating some of the teaching techniques she learned from mentor Professor Schwartz.