© The Washington Leadership Program 2017 by Shaunak Turaga

WLP 2019 Week 6: What am I Willing to Struggle For?

August 4, 2019

While in the past five weeks I have absorbed an insurmountable amount of knowledge and second-hand wisdom, this particular question has become uncomfortably salient in my WLP journey. It’s a question I feel compelled to have an immediate answer to. Much to my chagrin, I don’t have an answer and likely won’t anytime soon.


I came into WLP hoping to solidify my “ten year plan,” but the more speakers I hear and more people I talk to, the “ten-year plan” has become increasingly obsolete. I had never thought about working for a campaign or in the state department. Never had I considered teaching to be a potential career!  And, as I have complained many times to my fellow scholars, it really does seem like I was more aware of my role in the world when I was fifteen than I do now. 


While the future is still daunting, this summer has been the quintessential, chick-flick worthy “find myself” moment. Coupled with my now outdated ten-year plan has been the resurgence of an overwhelming enthusiasm. The opportunities seem endless! Seeing fellow South Asians in various positions that I aspire to be in has not only been incredibly reassuring but has also opened my eyes to opportunities I didn’t even know were available.  


I recognize that representation is a privilege I have that those before me didn’t, and the speakers from this week- Judge Sri Srinivasan and Anurima Bhargava- have illustrated the importance of being and feeling represented. As a prospective lawyer, I left this week feeling motivated, empowered, and with a level of certainty that law school is right for me.  


Our first event of the week was with Judge Srinivasan, who reflected on his journey as a student, lawyer, father, and now also a judge. We asked him questions on growing up as an Indian in Kansas, his experiences in college and law school, and how he navigated the moral quandaries that are part and parcel to working as a prosecutor with the U.S. government. I was most interested in hearing about his experiences arguing in front of the Supreme Court- he had argued 25 cases! Judge Srinivasan emphasized the role of serendipity in his life and how there is no one path to the top. We should focus on pursuing lives that we love, changing the world in whatever way we can, and the rest will fall into place.


On Thursday we met with Anurima Bhargava, a dynamic and eclectic civil rights advocate. As someone who has an overwhelming variety of interests, I found it inspiring meeting Bhargava who had dabbled in a variety of fields, from law to filmmaking. She discussed her experiences working in the Department of Justice, working with people you politically disagree with, and making yourself heard in white male-dominated spaces as a South Asian woman. I think I speak for my cohort when I say we left in awe. We left that meeting feeling not only like we could make it, but that whatever happens, we’ll be more than alright. Bhargava’s confidence, enthusiasm, and confidence was contagious. As one of the women in our group said, Bhargava was not only someone to aspire to be career-wise, but someone to aspire to be as a person. 


Both speakers also emphasized the importance of “paying it forward.” While I attempted to figure out what I was willing to struggle for, the cohort was also grappling with the question of what we're willing to struggle for. As part of a larger South Asian community, a so-called “sleeping giant” in the world of politics,  our presence must mean something more. In other words, how are we going to pay it forward? Firstly, within our own South Asian American community, we need more conversations between different nationalities and religious groups. I also firmly believe that we need to continue questioning what our role ought to be in the broader American societal context. We need to ask how we can most effectively ally with other minority groups and stand strong with our fellow African American and immigrant communities. 


Thanks to WLP, this summer I grew secure into my identity as a South-Asian American and feel empowered as a South Asian American in public service. I will carry the lessons I’ve learned through the next two years of school and beyond. I am so excited to be a part of the WLP community and to continue doing my part to make the world a better place. 


Madhumitha Krishnan

UC Berkeley

Department of Commerce

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