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Students At Harvard's Kennedy School Weigh In On Shutdown


Federal employees are making their way through a backlog of emails, voicemails and work now that the government has reopened.


Immigration services are verifying the status of workers.

MONTAGNE: Fishing inspectors are getting the crab season started.

GREENE: And, Renee, here in Washington, the National Zoo's Panda Cam is showing more adorable private moments between mama and cub.

MONTAGNE: NPR reporters across the country have been checking on how everyone's adjusting. We go first to Tovia Smith in the Boston area, where she visited with students at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: You might expect young, idealistic students of government to be among those most dismayed by the dysfunction in D.C.

AARON QUARLES: We really kind of identify this as a failure of leadership on multiple sides. The fact that we were going to drive our nation off a cliff, it's pretty sad.

SMITH: Students like Aaron Quarles say they're glad government finally reopened and averted the worst, but Congress hasn't exactly done itself any favors in the recruitment department with policymaker wannabes, like Brian Latko.

BRIAN LATKO: Right now, I just don't see a way it's going to change. And the idea of getting involved in actual development of policy or in politics itself in the current state of things, yeah, it's been a slight turnoff for me.

SMITH: But just slight. This is, after all, the Kennedy School, a citadel of public service, where banners fly all over campus paraphrasing the former president and imploring students to, quote, "ask what you can do."

XI WANG: It's our school sort of mantra, and they don't let us forget it.

SMITH: Xi Wang says professors here have little patience for political finger-pointing or cynicism. Here, the government shutdown has been more a case study, and, as student Alister Martin sees it, a call to action.

ALISTER MARTIN: Certainly, people have dropped the ball. It doesn't mean that we will. And it's our duty to come here and to learn from each other how to make things right.

SMITH: Indeed, students have dissected the shutdown and blamed everything from campaign finance to the way members of Congress have drawn themselves politically safe districts where they have little need to compromise. Aaron Quarles says his generation will be much better at working together.

QUARLES: You know, thinking about the way we treat racial issues, the way we treat gender and sexuality issues, the way we can kind of just see across lines and figure out, hey, how do we figure out how to get things done. That's a little bit more our character.

DEBBIE CHEN: Well, can I just point out that it's not like we have a choice?

SMITH: That's first-year student Debbie Chen.

CHEN: We are saddled with, what, 3.6 or so trillion dollars of debt. So, we are going to have to be the ones who own up to the mess that was created, whether we like it or not.

SMITH: In some ways, that mess, says fellow student Josh Baugh, is also partly voters' fault.

JOSH BAUGH: We have shown a pattern of selecting leaders who tell us exactly what we want to hear. And people who challenge our, you know, strongly held beliefs, we take them down. We don't endorse them. We don't put them in power. And so, on one hand, it's on them, and on the other hand it's on us.

SMITH: It is easy to criticize from up here in the ivory tower, as one student put it. But we can't really say we'll be different till we're down in the trenches where they are. Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.

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