After yesterday’s formal swearing-in, we can all sleep through today’s snow storm knowing that A-100 training is now behind us and that we are all officially commissioned diplomats. It is a bit of a cliche, but like many cliches, a truism that the State Department provides a unique opportunity to reinvent oneself every two or three years. I took the opportunity to give it a shot for the first six weeks.
Those that know me well, those who have worked with me, and those that have worked for me know I am far from shy in speaking my mind. I’m usually one of the first ones to volunteer a comment, opinion, or piece of advice and, typically, the last one to shut up. During college and law school, I was invariably sitting in the front row, ready to pounce on the first invitation for input or argument. With less than a dozen true introverts in our class of 98, I knew there would be no shortage of Type-A personalities jumping in.
So I took a back seat. I typically sat in the middle-back, on the aisle, and constantly suppressed the urge to question, volunteer, or lead. The first two weeks were difficult, but I found myself listening much more closely to what the presenters and my classmates had to say. I never really considered that one aspect of always being the one to engage diverted a lot of my attention to what I was going to do or say next. In a trial setting, this often involving thinking through my statement, the expected counter, and my rebuttal to that expected counter. All that thinking, planning, and preparing meant I was not always listening to nuance or detail.
I won’t over-romanticize the training or my experiment in quiet observation. Some presentations were taxing, and some were just downright boring. One benefit to preparing to speak often is that one tends to stay conscious. I confess I did not always succeed in that minimal level of participation. There were also times when my “approach” was simply an excuse to be lazy.
That said, I think there were moments over the last six weeks when I was genuinely impressed by each person in the class. The Foreign Service application path is absurdly long and I often questioned its substance and process. The resulting group — at least the 97 other members of the 149th — are extraordinarily bright, accomplished, and surprisingly humble. After 28 days in an overcrowded classroom, several field trips, two days bonding in the drizzle of West Virginia, and innumerable lunches, happy hours, and dinners, I thought I’d heard everyone’s best stories. Sitting in a Dupont Circle bar yesterday with an assorted collection of fellow newly minted officers, killing time before heading to the official happy hour on U Street, I was amazed to hear some new, amazing, stories. She ran a marathon on the Great Wall of China. He survived a car jacking by imitation police in Caracas. Oh, and he’s slightly embarrassed that another classmate discovered his newly published novel at Border’s and asked for an inscription. Slackers one and all.
The 149th now splits up into many smaller groups. Some will join me for a month and a half of consular training before scattering to posts around the world. Many will jump into intensive training to develop fluency in Spanish, French, German, Mandarin, Arabic, Urdu, Indonesian, Amharic, Hindi, Swahili, and a host of other languages. Some of us will be leaving soon and others will have close to a year of further training.
I am so proud to be associated with the Foreign Service and our class. I look forward to crossing paths for years to come with members of the 149th. Cheers.