Admiral James Stavridis is a former Supreme Allied Commander of Nato and current Dean of the Fletcher School of International Relations at Tufts University. YCA recently stopped by his office in Medford, Massachusetts to discuss his experience as a public servant and to understand his perspective regarding today’s politically active youth.

Admiral Stavridis grew up in a military family—his father was an active duty Marine Corps officer before becoming an academic. This inspired him to follow a similar path by serving in the Navy for over thirty years, then transitioning into an academic career. Admiral Stavridis noted that his experiences working in the military and a college campus have been surprisingly similar, since “education is a fundamental part of the military.” His transition from military to college life was easy because in both careers, he spent much of his time mentoring young people working towards similar goals.

For young people pursuing careers in government and public service, Admiral Stavridis recommends doing well in school, selecting a major you enjoy, and deciding between pursuing international or domestic politics. Students interested in international affairs should study abroad and learn languages, while students interested in domestic politics should work on campaigns and intern on Capitol Hill.

Admiral Stavridis has three basic recommendations for young people looking to become effective civic leaders based on his decades of experience in the military and now running a graduate school. Young people should focus on growing in physical strength, intellectual curiosity, and morality. He noted that “working hard physically is very important, and a very underrated aspect of development.” Intellectual advancement is also vital for young people—Admiral Stavridis recommends “exposing yourself to as many different ideas as you can,” especially by reading. Finally, he emphasized the importance of examining your own values of morality. Since “it is less obvious how you develop the moral qualities that make an individual a good citizen,” he advised young people to find positive role models. For example, college students might find great examples in their peers and teachers.

After the historic 2016 presidential election, Admiral Stavridis has noticed a new dynamic on college campuses among politically inclined students. Young people are putting “more energy into challenging events and policies and causes that are clearly wrong in the mind of the majority of Americans,” like DACA and displays of white supremacy. He noted that “a society is on its way to demise when its young people are not debating and challenging the big ideas.”

Thank you so much to Admiral James Stavridis for speaking with us and sharing such important advice!

Written by Kate Canavan, YCA Editor-in-Chief