Voice from the Right
By Joe Kerper '00
hesitate to apply a label as broad as liberal - or conservative, for
that matter - to St. Lawrence University, although, according to my
systematic pre-college research, most colleges and universities are,
with very few exceptions, what we generally think
of as liberal. I can speak only from a perspective based on my experiences
while there, and say that I wouldn't have had it any other way.
When I arrived on campus - arguing with my parents, as all freshmen
do, about where to park the car, trying to look debonair in front of
the ladies of my hall, and hauling an overstuffed box held together
with one of the miracles of modern science, duct tape, up too many steps
to count - I didn't fully appreciate being dropped into the middle of
a liberal campus. But nonetheless, there I was, in an environment where,
four years later, Al Gore was a lot more popular than George W. Bush.
As the only admitted, full-fledged Republican in most of my classes,
I often found myself at odds with the opinions - and related conclusions
- put forth by both my classmates and my professors. It was a new experience
for me, and because of that, it was during my four years at St. Lawrence
that I made the most progress in developing and articulating my point
of view - from why President Clinton should have resigned in the wake
of the Lewinsky affair to why I expected my professors to dress professionally.
I've always loved the power of words. Using them forces one to think.
There's an exactness about that process that appeals to meÑand
that's just the reason why from day one, The Hill News called to me.
I slaved away in our suite of offices for the four short years that
I was there - eventually finding myself editor-in-chief - for one simple,
selfish reason: I loved it. With the paper I had a new avenue of discovery,
a way to explore the tides of campus opinion, stir thought, ignite passion,
and occasionally, really provoke people. And argue, which is something
I also love to do. Working on the paper taught me how to argue effectively.
Whether it was late nights wrapping up The Hill News, discussing points
of view in class or debating an issue with friends in the Pub, my time
at SLU helped me to realize that "lib-
eral" is not a bad word - and no, there's not a 12-step program
behind this personal milestone. Being surrounded by a community that
largely disagreed with my views on life, love, and increasing corporate
tax breaks made me work, made me think about my views, and strengthened
my self-identity. I was always challenged by the disparityÑnever
It was like a big, F.A.O. Schwartz-sized chess game; I was forced to
think not only about my responses to these challenges, but also about
how my opponents would react. What was their argument? Their bias and
background? What would they do next? I came to understand that surrounding
myself with familiar thoughts, comfortable ideas and nothing out of
the ordinary would have been a disaster.
A professor once told me, while reviewing a paper that I had written,
that my thesis was wrong - that no 21-year-old could possibly know who
he was at this stage of the game. He went on to say that he was unsure
of his life's direction at 21 - and that everyone was. It took me aback
for a moment, until I realized why he was wrong - not all life experiences
are constant; there are no absolutes in life; most certainly none in
Question everything, as I think an episode of The X-Files once proclaimed.
My experiences at SLU helped me to see the benefits of doing just that.
They were built upon and simultaneously buttressed my confidence in
my beliefs, my abilities, and, as a result, myself. I was forced to
think critically, evaluate my options, and then make a decision.
St. Lawrence may be a liberal school, but that doesn't come at the
expense of differing viewpoints. It's the same liberal St. Lawrence
campus that helped me emerge as the man that I am today, and I'm grateful.
St. Lawrence challenged me - from my professors and fellow students,
to the books I read and the friends I made. And that's an experience
that I wouldn't give up for a date with all of the supermodels in the
It's just this kind of learning process that makes my job in the communications
department of the National Rifle Association of America so much fun
- and so easy - to do. I find myself constantly amazed that I'm being
paid to do what I learned to do at St. Lawrence. I never know what I'll
be involved in next, from designing a new brochure, to ghost-writing
an editorial for a CEO, to dealing with a TV reporter on deadline.
Throughout it all, though, the questions that I need to ask myself
remain the same. The lessons learned from my days in the not-too-distant
past at St. Lawrence hold true. I'm playing on that same chessboard;
it's just a new game now - and the strategies remain exactly the same.
Joe Kerper '00 is a communications specialist with the National
Rifle Association of America, located in Fairfax, Va.