This story was originally published on December 17, 2010. Today, Irena is pursuing her PhD at Kings College, London.
It is hard to put into words how much my work on the executive board has taught me in the last two years. SFL has given me an incredible gift, here is my story. It started as a spontaneous, sudden almost-accident.
I began my career as a freshman at American University in 2008. I was an impassioned former high school young republicans president recently descending from the summer’s Ron Paul craze. I had a penchant for angry political discussions and questioning everything mainstream. I thought I was a budding free-market ideologue. I was going to tell people how it was. I was (and continue to be) just a little crazy and a lot stubborn – often turning out to be wrong. But I’m glad I was crazy and stubborn enough to make one very right joke to my new friend Nick Zaiac during freshman orientation: “This school doesn’t even have a libertarian club! Hah! We should just start one ourselves!”
Seriously, I can’t believe we did it. After the paperwork was in, we found ourselves co-presidents of a student organization in our first couple of weeks of college. Boy did we not know what we were doing! We pitched in for pizzas out-of pocket and posted really poorly designed flyers around campus announcing the existence of the club. Maybe seven or ten people convened in one old residence hall meeting room. We discussed ideas for the club, thoughts about politics, and the intellectual figures we liked and disliked. I’m proud to know each of these individuals today, all of whom later got internships, fellowships and jobs with incredible liberty-oriented organizations. I think each of them is going to change the world one day.
That fall we became entrepreneurs. We printed flyers off personal computers, stayed up into wee hours drawing posters, shared in the depression of the recent elections (while our fellow peers hysterically cried and streaked through campus), goofed off in meetings and became really great friends. One day we decided to hand out constitutions on campus. I called up the general number of the Cato Institute and was referred to some guy by the name of Alexander McCobin. They had some kind of student program, I was told. I introduced myself. Instead of constitutions, I received an enthusiastic invitation to that year’s Philadelphia Students For Liberty Conference at UPenn. No one wanted to go. I was about to avoid this trip. Why drag myself for 4 hours on a bus up north to a questionable event with unknown strangers? But I was slightly crazy, and again, rightfully so. I went. I was ready to pay for a hotel room in case this was a scam.
It was not a scam. A cab dropped me off Friday night and I went around the Penn campus with a suitcase asking students where the SFL conference was (go ahead, laugh!). Eventually, after begging my way past library security to find a computer, I wound up in the right spot. The next day I was the only attendee from DC. Very quickly, I became bewildered. The event didn’t seem to be tremendous to anybody else, but I was in a state of shock. There were students who believed that free markets are a good thing? There were others who started clubs? Wait, these people actually knew how to run an event? And WHO are these professors who actually agree with me, and why don’t I have any at my school!? I was a little angry, I was blown away – people were telling me about places like the Institute for Humane Studies, and radio programs, and books, and professors… I felt like the whole world dropped out of the sky and fell into my hands.
The rest of the story is like a game of dominos. A second later, I was on AU’s quad reading Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson,” a week later, we started pulling off amazing events at AU, a month later I applied for SFL’s board and was unexpectedly accepted, two months later we launched the DC Forum for Freedom and built a legendary network of liberty loving friends across the city, a semester later I was learning all about free markets around the country with the Foundation for Economic Education, a summer later I was running the Philadelphia conference myself and the DC attendees outnumbered the Philadelphians, six months after that I was hopping on mountains helping run the FEE seminars, and now I’m writing this, on the cusp of an early graduation, with what seems like an eternity of endless late-nights discussing philosophy, international conferences, signature Monday-night webinars, scholars, friends, cities, planes, books, socials, people – people – people! I don’t know how I will ever thank SFL for accidentally pointing me to the most adventurous, outrageously entrepreneurial, and intellectually fulfilling trajectory that any possible college career could take. I can only thank SFL by loving life and liberty every day, being inquisitive, and doing my job.
Sometimes I wonder- Why SFL, why liberty? I think on some level all of us at SFL have different reasons – some we might not even be aware of – for doing this job, and it’s hard to say if we’ll ever make it onto a history page. But that’s beside the point. I don’t think that liberty is about “telling people how it is,” or power politics, or ideologues, or Ron Paul, or some great economist. We will always disagree about the trends and details and personalities. I always question myself, and most of the time I can’t even answer my own questions. But if I’ve got nothing else, I believe that people can – and should – live in liberty. Every day I work with individuals who live in liberty and stand for it even if the world is telling them they can’t. They are unafraid of their convictions. And they are humble. They help me know a little bit about the sort of person I want to be. Call out the clichés and the Atlas reference, but I’m absolutely serious when I say that the world stands on giants like these people. Wherever I take this experience, I will always be able to say that one day, I was crazy: I got on a bus to Philly and SFL accidentally gave me the freedom to explore, create and be forever undaunted.
I hope that SFL can continue to inspire students for years and decades to come. To help us make these experiences a reality for even more students, to provide them with the skills, resources, and motivation necessary to continue in their development and their fight for a free academy and a free society, give the gift of liberty.