The Public Policy and Leadership Conference offered at HKS is designed for first and second year undergraduate students who are U.S. Citizens or permanent residents. Applicants to the program must have at least a 3.5 GPA and an interest in public service. The deadline to apply this year is November 12 and the application can be accessed here. All expenses for the conference are paid by HKS.
Previous participants have agreed to share about their experience and in this post we featured Rashawn Davis. For our PPLC announcement blog post with links to more interviews and information, please click here.
Name: Rashawn Davis
Harvard PPLC Year: 2012
Undergraduate School: Georgetown University
Rashawn Davis attended PPLC his sophomore year while at Georgetown University. Rashawn often cites the PPLC program as being a defining experience in his collegiate career that not only solidified his passion for service, but set that passion on fire. Since PPLC, Rashawn has graduated from Georgetown University with a degree in Government, where he was the winner of the prestigious Slevin Award for his commitment to community service.
As President of the NAACP Chapter of Georgetown University, Rashawn used the skills from PPLC to organize, inspire, and mobilize his peers around issues that matter. After the 2012 events surrounding Trayvon Martin, Rashawn helped to organize a rally on the steps of Washington D.C. City Hall; nearly 5,000 people came out to attend. For his efforts, Rashawn was named the 2013 awardee of the Unilever Legacy of Leadership Award. Rashawn was also named a 2013 PPIA Fellow, spending a summer learning at Carnegie Mellon University.
During his senior year at Georgetown, Rashawn announced that he was running for City Council in his home city of Newark, NJ. Campaigning on weekends, and returning to school during the week, Rashawn mounted a competitive campaign that attracted the attention of national press such as USA Today and MTV. In March, of his senior year, Rashawn became the youngest person in Newark history to be a certified candidate on the ballot. Although, he ultimately fell 700 votes short of a victory, Rashawn’s efforts were admirable. He has since given a TED talk and a host of guest lectures on his experiences.
Rashawn now woks as an organizer at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, where he works on urban policy such as “Stop and Frisk” reform.
What does PPLC mean to you?
My PPLC experience is something that I truly hold close. For me it is not an afterthought, or something I remember; the inspiration and audacity to dream big that I learned from guest speakers such as Ayanna Pressley and Julian Castro, are still very much active tenets in my life. They are motivators that I use during the bad days, during the times when I feel cynical or doubtful about the future of our nation and the world. The powerful lessons that I reflect on during these days, keeps me moving forward.
How did you find out about PPLC?
A mentor of mine, who understood my need to be immersed in a program like PPLC, suggested that I apply, even when I wasn’t really thinking about it. I am incredibly grateful that she pushed me to apply; my life has not been the same since I started the program.
What was the most enjoyable part of your PPLC experience?
First, the program is as powerful as it is because of the people it consists of. Program leaders such as Marny Mitchell and Gabrielle Wyatt, really helped me feel at home on day one, and remained sources of encouragement throughout the program. My peers as well, the lifeblood of the program were all incredible. We were all from very diverse backgrounds, and I loved learning from them and growing with them. Many of us still remain friends, long after PPLC. Another unforgettable moment was when we were able to meet then-Mayor Julian Castro. His story was so profound and reminded me of myself, and my own ambitions. Getting a chance to hear him speak, and meet him after, is a memory that I will always cherish, especially as he continues to ascend to national prominence.
What is the thing that surprised you most?
For me it was really Harvard, as an institution. There are so many stereotypes of privilege, ostentation, and arrogance that is sometimes associated with Harvard. It really wasn’t until I stepped on the campus myself, chatted with students, discussed with professors, and experienced Harvard that I understood what makes this place great isn’t just all the awards, esteem, and it’s storied history, its really the students and faculty, the actual people, who get up everyday and strive to be better than yesterday. There is a culture that that is always trying to push the envelope forward and never settles for the status quo. I came back to Washington, D.C., not only surprised by Harvard, but convinced that it is where I wanted to continue my post-graduate education.
Before PPLC, did you have a solid idea of what public policy education is all about?
I had already done a ton of research on what a great public policy education looks like, but it was an entirely different experience hearing it from folks who have committed their lives to this field. Of course, hearing the stats and admissions policies were informative, but I think the most rewarding information was about the passion of service, and why people should commit themselves to public service.
What sorts of things did you learn or experience that might have an impact on your immediate and long-term future?
Something that I have reiterated throughout this blog post, is really the passion and inspiration that PPLC gives students. I left the program believing I can achieve the impossible and that has fueled much of my success thus far in my life. Reflecting back, in the short term, PPLC gave me the energy and the knowledge to navigate course selections for the remainder of my college career, as well as the tools to start planning for my post-graduate education long before my peers were thinking about it.
What advice would you give to prospective PPLC participants?
One Word: Apply. You will not regret it.