Trinity graduate and Trustee Paula Lettice ’71, chief financial officer for the Architect of the U.S. Capitol, gave the keynote remarks, “Practice Your Degree – Take It with You and Live It,” at the induction ceremony for the Trinity chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha, the political science honor society. She also was inducted as an honorary member of Trinity’s chapter at the ceremony on April 23, 2008. She spoke to the Trinity students inducted into Pi Sigma Alpha and their guests about the importance of being an engaged citizen and emphasized the value of ethical decision making.
“Practice Your Degree – Take It with You and Live It”
Paula Lettice ’71
Thank you so much for those kind words, Dr. Tomkin, and good evening President McGuire, faculty, students, and those being honored tonight. It is such a pleasure to be back here at Trinity and in historic Main Hall … where so many traditions (some historic, some academic, and some quite playful) have been borne and practiced.
When Dr. Tomkin extended the invitation, I reminisced about my time as a political science major here at Trinity and the many years since I put on that cap and gown for commencement. Leaving “TC” as a political science major posed a lot of “what if” questions? What would I do with my degree? A favorite saying for my classmates and me – “Only thing you can do with poli sci is research … or go on to grad school, law school, etc.” Well, political science is so much more that just a liberal arts major … it’s a foundation in government, human behavior and interaction, politics, world affairs, international relationships, public policy, macro-economics, social behavior, civics and … even more basically … life!! You’ll be amazed at how often the classroom theory comes back at you in practice.
It’s easy to keep your poli sci roots right when you graduate, especially in a Presidential election year … but what happens as you move farther and farther from your degree? Do you continue to stay as involved? Do you practice the tenets of all the theories you learned here under the Red Roof?
I encourage you … well, I actually implore you … to practice your degree … take it with you, live it every day, stay involved and informed, help others gain access to the political system, teach the next generation, etc.
So what does this mean? There are two aspects to practicing your degree:
1. What you do …
2. And how you do it ….
Let’s talk about the first one – what you do … first and foremost, be a registered voter and always exercise your franchise! Even in the smallest election – off year, local offices, perhaps a referendum or two … in Virginia, we vote for state and county officials in odd years. Voter turnout is much lower than in Presidential years or even the off-year national elections … but local government is as important, potentially more so, in impacting your daily life – where you live, how you live, what services are offered, the quality of public education, libraries, roads, recreation centers, police and fire protection.
You can’t complain about public programs, taxes, local budgets, county or state services … if you aren’t a force behind them. Voting is the simplest and least painful way to stay involved. You can also write letters, attend meetings, serve in civic associations, participate in partisan politics, or volunteer. Try to influence the public policy debate. Did you realize that volunteering at a shelter or an elementary school or hospital is actually a manifestation of your public policy beliefs – you think that the homeless or abused need to have their needs addressed, that early childhood education is the building block and foundation for further education, that hospitals have a calling to provide humanitarian and good medicine to those who are ill or dying. I am practicing my degree – I vote, I have volunteered in a gubernatorial election; I taught as an adjunct professor; I counseled working poor on personal budgets, and have chaired fundraisers to help non-profits. You can do all these things as well … and I bet many of you have already racked up a lot of public service in your young lives – think about it!
You can also continue to network – something that my classmates and I didn’t understand … it clearly wasn’t a buzzword back then and there certainly weren’t computer networks! We may have networked a little almost inadvertently but we didn’t understand what it meant – as our male counterparts had so long practiced – or the value of networks. Whether it’s your online network – Facebook?, your Trinity alumnae network, LinkedIn, high school friends, fellow church parishioners, neighbors, or future professional colleagues – stay in touch, even if it’s just for friendships. You can “work your networks” or not – it’s up to you. But professional and personal friends and colleagues are really important – keep up your contacts. What may amaze you – I still am in touch with and annually exchange Christmas cards with Dr. Betty James from whom I took the History of Political Thought, Politics of Sub-Saharan Africa, and Politics of Developing Countries. She even spoke at my swearing in as President of Executive Women in Government in 2000. I am practicing my degree by staying in touch with these dear people and meeting for an occasional dinner.
The second thought I’d like to leave with you is practicing ethical decision making … not only in your personal life, but professional life as well. There are so many “lapses in judgment,” both in the private sector but the public sector as well. From Enron to Watergate, from the White House to the Governors’ Mansion in 2 northeastern states. Just in the past year, we have Senators Larry Craig, David Vitter, and Ted Stevens, all with degrees of compromised and compromising situations. To keep this balanced politically, Governors Jim McGreevey of NJ and Elliott Spitzer of NY certainly did their part to undermine the public trust.
One of my favorite ways of looking at ethics in the workplace is in the movies. While movies are pure entertainment, some of them provide a constant source of case studies for the political scientist. In the business world, we have The Firm with Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman – how a large, prestigious law firm padded its billable hours and controlled its associates’ lives; The Devil’s Advocate with Keanu Reaves and Al Pacino – another law firm situation where greed, money, and intimidation were used to sway the law and how justice is argued; and Live From Baghdad with Michael Keaton – the real-life story of CNN as the only news organization to broadcast first-hand live reports from Baghdad after the first war began and what the news team did by way of political posturing to get the story – heroics yes, but compromises as well.
In the public area, there are a host of films, some of my favorites of which are:
• Dave with Kevin Kline, a local employment agency owner who is almost kidnapped into playing a substitute President after the elected President suffers a massive stroke or heart attack while canoodling. Then the President’s Chief of Staff tries to “run what he views as his Presidency” as a non-elected official through Dave.
• All the President’s Men with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate cover-up. A movie based on a book based on a true story.
• A Few Good Men, again with Tom Cruise and Demi Moore about the Marine Corps base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and intimidation and going too far “for the Code.” Was the physical harassment of Private Santiago by fellow Marines ethical? Was the cover-up by the CO Col. Jessep and others that ensued in the best interest of the public?
• And a more recent film, The Three Kings with George Clooney, Ice T, and Mark Wahlberg where three Army soldiers go off looking to raid Saddam Hussein’s gold. Along the way they see civilians being massacred but do nothing while they load the gold bars into bags and jeeps, all to feather their own pockets. Stealing? Observing murders? Not very ethical, is it? However, in the end, they do sacrifice the gold to protect these civilians.
You can tell that professional ethics is something near and dear to me. Each of you will some day be in a situation where your own personal and professional ethics are tested. Some of you may have many of these “growth experiences.” I am practicing my degree – throughout over 30 years of federal government work and six years in the association world, I have tried to not only practice ethics but to set a high standard for others … and to dearly protect the public trust. There were instances where I couldn’t make the decision that “was expected” of me, but I tried to take the high ground, and advocate the right course of action. Hopefully I’ve done the right things along the way, made the right choices, been loyal to the oath I’ve taken … and been an ethical public employee and association executive.
Thank you again for inviting me … congratulations to the new inductees to Pi Sigma Alpha … and best wishes in your academic and professional pursuits. Enjoy your remaining days here at Trinity!