Big Ideas: Austin '15

Over the summer, Austin Corona '15 attended the Aspen Ideas Festival, a gathering of leaders from across the world and across disciplines to discuss major issues of our times, as a reporter for the Festival's official blog.  The series, called the Youth Report and written by Austin and two other youths, aimed to distribute the experience of the Ideas Festival among students and create a greater youth contribution to the Festival. Drawn to public relations, Austin interviewed diplomat and president of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haas, four-star generals and former CIA directors General Michael Hayden and General David Petraeus, and former US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen, among others.  Below, Austin reflects on his experience.

What was most interesting to you about your role in particular and about the festival in general?

I think that the most interesting aspect of it was gaining a first-person perspective. In a world where the media usually delivers our information to us in the form of a third person perspective, I found it incredibly interesting to talk directly to these speakers about the work they do in global affairs or science.  Another interesting aspect of the Ideas Festival was that I came to realize that these larger-than-life speakers really are just people like all of us, and that they deal with pressure and they have opinions much the same way that we do. It helps to put the world's problems in perspective in that the people involved in them are real people; we are just as much citizens of this globe as they are.

Who was the best interview and why?

The best interview I had was with a man named Geoffrey West, who works with an organization called the Santa Fe Institute. His work was fascinating because he had proven that cities operate much in the same way that living organisms do. He could even mathematically project the crime rate or the amount of electrical infrastructure in any city based entirely off of its size much in the same way a biologist can calculate heart rate or gestation period of a mammal based off of its size. My other best interview was with General Patraeus, because I was able to walk across the campus with him and just chat for a while, which was incredible.  He gave me a thought-out answer that was considerate of my efforts to talk to him, and he spoke cordially with me and had quite a bit of interest in what I had to say to him in our conversation.

What did you learn from this experience?

I learned a lot about what I want to do and about how the world works. On the surface, I learned a great deal about everything from the healthcare system and how the Affordable Care Act actually works to why Putin's worldview is the way it is. I was able to hear people explain situations and concepts that I could never wrap my head around.  I also learned that the world is a quickly-changing and constantly-moving environment, and the vast complexity of issues that exist now may be completely unimportant in a few years, or it may just become another layer to a more vastly complicated issue.  The world is hugely complex and changing, and we can only try our best to understand it all.

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