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Sen. Jon Ossoff (SFS’09) Delivers Department of Government’s Bernstein Lecture

Sen. Jon Ossoff (SFS’09), D-Georgia, delivered the government department’s annual Bernstein Lecture. Elected in a historic runoff, Ossoff is the youngest Senator currently serving in Congress and known for bipartisan legislative and investigative efforts. 

The lecture is part of the Bernstein Symposium, which brings renowned policymakers, elected officials and scholars to the Hilltop for discussions about the challenges and opportunities confronting public institutions. It is named for the late Marver H. Bernstein, a former professor of politics and philosophy in the School of Foreign Service.

This year’s event was held in memory of the Honorable Robert A Katzmann, former chief judge of the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals and former Walsh Professor in the College of Arts & Sciences’ Department of Government.

Shreeica Ware, Ossoff’s former scheduler and a graduate student pursuing an MSFS at Georgetown, introduced the senator. 

A woman in a black blouse and white jacket speaks at a podium.

Shreeica Ware introduces Sen. Jon Ossoff (SFS’09) in Gaston Hall. Photo By: Phil Humnicky/Georgetown Univ.

“Your brilliance, intelligence and work ethic have taken you far,” said Ossoff of Ware. “I’m so proud of you and all that you’re accomplishing here at Georgetown.”

Ossoff spoke in Gaston Hall, and noted that he used to sing as part of an a capella group on the same stage. Ossoff highlighted his efforts to investigate and reform federal prisons and improve resources for veterans wounded in combat. 

“There are more opportunities to work across the aisle than many seek to find,” said Ossoff. “It has surprised many people that I’ve been able to find bipartisan partners to investigate the sexual abuse of women in federal prisons and to write landmark legislation to initiate overhaul of the federal prison system.”

The senator emphasized that bipartisan legislation and investigations can occur when leaders avoid the quick catharsis of cable news and social media and focus on the real work of the Congress. 

“This is an approach that produces public policy that lasts by cultivating these spaces where we find common ground and can achieve results,” said Ossoff. “Leaders are capable of putting the national interest and the human interest ahead of their political interest.” 

The partisan incentives on social media and cable news are counterproductive to enacting real change, according to Ossoff. 

“My constituents did not elect me to spout talking points on cable television or get into arguments on social media. I deleted the apps and I recommend that you all do too,” said Ossoff to the gathered students. “The amount of time that we dedicate to doom scrolling is incredibly destructive.”

After his lecture, Elizabeth Grimm (G’10), an associate teaching professor in the Center for Security Studies, moderated a discussion with Ossoff. Grimm, who earned her Ph.D. at Georgetown, worked as a teaching assistant in Tony Arend and Dan Porterfield’s seminar on human rights, which Ossoff took as an undergraduate. In their conversation, Ossoff connected his time at Georgetown to his career as an investigative journalist and now as a U.S. Senator. 

“This place played such a formative role in my life,” said Ossoff. “The environment here afforded me the space to grow intellectually and to develop the skills that were essential to my journalistic work on war crimes, organized crime and corruption around the world.” 

For the gathered students, especially those on the cusp of graduation, Ossoff encouraged them to follow their passions. 

“You’re going to be more effective, more motivated and more fulfilled when you’re doing work that you believe in,” said Ossoff. “Then you can individually do your part in pushing for a process that involves all of us, not just elected officials. I look forward to working alongside you in the effort to ensure human flourishing.”

-by Hayden Frye (C’17)