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Photo courtesy of the State Department.
In early October, nine Master in Public Policy (MPP) students received the exciting news that as award winners for their Spring Exercise last April, they would be meeting Hillary Clinton in person. Several weeks later they found themselves face-to-face with the Secretary of State, shaking hands and briefly discussing U.S.-China policy. For many of them, it will stand out as one of the more memorable moments of their time at HKS.
Every spring, the MPP class toils for two weeks to prepare written memos, briefing books, and presentations for a world leader during the Spring Exercise, competing for the honor of having one of the top five memos or the top group presentation. Last year students were asked to address four main issues with regard to U.S. strategic relations with China: the Iranian nuclear weapons program, China’s relationship with the Sudan, climate change, and international labor standards. While the memo writers chose between labor standards and climate change, groups were required to present on all of the above.
Their prize was worth the effort — a meeting in the fall with the very leader they were mock-briefing in the spring. This year, the Kennedy School flew nine students to Washington, DC to meet with Secretary Clinton. “You never know how these things are going to go before hand,” says Sheila Burke, adjunct lecturer in public policy, who directed last year’s exercise along with Steve Kelman, Albert J. Weatherhead III and Richard W. Weatherhead professor of public management. “It could just be a photo-op or she could actually engage the students on the subject matter.” Fortunately for the students who participated this year, it was the latter.
Clinton not only asked the students about their project and their conclusions, but also offered some commentary on the situation, in particular about the challenges of managing a relationship with a country with which we share such close economic interests and yet such different culture and values.
At the forefront of the discussion was her frustration with the United States’ standing in the race to lead the world’s new green economy. Clinton told the students that even putting aside the politics of climate change, it is in America’s economic interest to become a leader in producing green technologies, and she feels that we are falling behind.
This discussion brought home for the students the reality of the situation, reminding them of how important their work is at the Kennedy School and beyond. Sumit Sood MPP 2011 — a member of the winning briefing team — remarked: “Every time I travel to DC and I see the White House and the monuments, I get that same feeling and it’s great. It’s also definitely humbling, and I realize just how much work there is still left to do. You could tell when we were talking to Secretary Clinton, from her words and her tone, that she is genuinely concerned about China.”
To read the full story and find out more, visit The Harvard Citizen website.