My Sister, Future Leader of the Free World

Before launching into the real purpose of this post, I must make one comment: supporting a West Coast baseball team while living on the East Coast is awesome. It’s almost 11 p.m. and the Mariners and Marlins are only in the third inning. I’ll be in bed before it’s over, but in Oregon, you don’t get to fall asleep listening to the M’s. (Of course, I understand that this is a double-edged sword, because it’s this same phenomenon that helps perpetuate the “East Coast bias” in sports – East Coasters don’t give West Coast teams [see, “2010 Oregon Ducks”] the credit they deserve because they’re rarely awake late enough to watch them play. But that’s for another post.)

Now that we’ve got a sports reference and parentheses-within-parentheses out of the way…

One of my favorite pictures of Hope and me - at the 2010 Civil War football game.

One of my favorite pictures of Hope and me - at the 2010 Civil War football game.

It was a big weekend for the Landsem family, as my sister Hope and my parents traveled to New York to drop Hope off at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where she’ll soon begin her first year. Tomorrow is known as “R-Day” in West Point-speak. It stands for “Reception Day,” and it basically means Hope’s first day as a West Point cadet. (I’m probably messing up some of the terminology, because I don’t think she’s officially a “cadet” until she finishes basic training, but you get the idea.)

Anyway, it’s a huge step. Most of my sister’s friends are still basking in the glory of summer vacation, but for the next several weeks, she’ll be acclimating herself to West Point life during BEAST – that’s an acronym for something I can’t fully remember, but it’s cadet basic training. On “A-Day,” or “Acceptance Day” in the middle of August, she’ll become a full-fledged cadet and begin her academic endeavors at West Point.

Hope is fully prepared for this: she was Student Body President this past year at her high school, was a Valedictorian, wants to be a chemical engineer, went to a Summer Leadership Seminar at West Point last summer…she was even a contestant on the kids’ edition of “Jeopardy!” in 2005. (No joke. She even has an IMDB profile because of it.)

I feel very lucky to have had some one-on-one time with my sister this weekend. She arrived in New York on Friday night (our parents didn’t come until Saturday) so we spent Saturday in the city.

A view of Manhattan from the Roosevelt Island Tram

We took the Roosevelt Island tram to um, well, Roosevelt Island. I don’t know how many people generally ride the tram, but it seems to be a hidden gem of New York City tourism. Tram fare is no different than a regular MTA MetroCard fare, and you get a pretty solid view of Manhattan. It’s not as impressive as an observation deck like Top of the Rock, but for a few bucks, it can’t be beat. The island itself also has nice walkways along the East River.

After meeting our parents last night, we drove to Newburgh, New York – a town near West Point. Escaping the city for the first time since I arrived was relaxing, but strange. We were only 50 or 60 miles outside NYC, but it felt like lightyears. Where were the skyscrapers? The smells? The subway stations? Here, people drove their own cars and lived among rolling hills and the Hudson River. I’m making it sound more idyllic than it really was, but the contrast between West Point and the city was astounding. My New York bubble had been popped.

We made a quick tour through the West Point campus (just in the car) but the place is stunning. You can just feel the history. I’m so proud of my sister for earning admission to the academy and for securing her place at an institution that’s taught some of our nation’s most important leaders. I mean, just read this sentence from West Point’s website:

From the day of its founding on March 16, 1802, a favorite expression at West Point is that “much of the history we teach was made by people we taught.” Great leaders such as Grant and Lee, Pershing and MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton, Schwarzkopf and Petraeus are among the more than 50,000 graduates. Countless others, following military service, have had distinguished careers in business, medicine, law, sports, politics, and science.

Words fail me. How can you not be impressed?

One aspect of my sister’s West Point experience that I find especially cool is how her graduating class of 2015 will mark the 100th

The entrance to West Point welcomed new cadets.

anniversary of “the class the stars fell on,” West Point’s class of 1915. That class included many of the most important leaders of World War II, like Omar Bradley and Dwight D. Eisenhower. This is cool for obvious reasons (“Oh, yeah, my fellow West Point alumnus, Dwight Eisenhower…”) but also because I’d assume there’d be a high likelihood of someone super important speaking at graduation (which I plan to attend).

While the weekend was bittersweet – I won’t see Hope until mid-August, and can only communicate via written letters until then – I am grateful for the time we had this weekend. The transition to military life likely won’t be easy, but I know she’ll do great. And in a few years, she’ll probably run for president.

Ohhhhh, We’re Halfway There…

….ohhhh, livin’ on a prayer!

Okay, that was lame, but it fit so perfectly. It has hit me that my time in New York is halfway over.

Time flies when you’re in the big city, so without being too sappy or cynical, here are the five main lessons I’ve learned, about the city, the public relations industry, and myself since I’ve been in New York:

  1. It’s okay to do things alone. For some reason, I have this idea in my head that if I’m not doing something with other people (running errands, having lunch, seeing a show), I am a friendless loser. You’re in a city of eight million people and you’re alone? That can’t be right – that’s what the voices say. Sometimes, I’ve forced myself to do things alone because my other option, the option that would involve being around people, would put me in situations I wouldn’t want to be in. New York can be lonely, but I am learning that it’s better to go solo than do something contrary to your values.
  2. New York really is the coolest city on earth. Granted, I have not been to every city on earth, but I’m pretty sure New York is the coolest. It is amazing/awesome/thrilling/enormous/challenging/busy, and if you’re lonely or sad or upset, you’re still in New York and that’s enough. The mix of people, cultures, buildings and industries here really does make it the place to be. I’m not saying it’s the place to be forever, but I am grateful for the chance to see it as more than a tourist.

    Not even the best New York skyline picture, but still do you compete with that?

  3. PR jobs are not the same as PR classes. Let me qualify this by saying that my internship is not a real job and that I haven’t taken every PR class my school offers. But, the working world is totally different from college. You don’t do public relations in the real world by consulting a theory in your textbook – you do it by understanding the task at hand and what you want to accomplish in that unique situation. That’s not to say that college is worthless, but it’s really only worth it if you understand how to apply it to real-world tasks, situations and strategies.
  4. You have to be fearless. Recently, I had coffee with a PR industry veteran who works at Rodale. She dispensed a lot of valuable advice, the best piece of which was to be fearless. Whether it’s picking up the phone to call a reporter even though you’re terrified of talking on the phone (that’s me, at times), or asking to meet with a professional to talk about their work. Work through your weaknesses and become stronger and better at your work in the process.
  5. Learn from and be grateful for everything that happens to you. (Warning: this one’s a little sappy.) Be grateful that you’re scrubbing the toilet, because even though it’s a toilet, it’s in the coolest city on earth. Be grateful that you get to talk to your little sister on Skype, because it’s not everyone who gets to hear about his or her sister playing Louis Armstrong in a summer camp play. Be grateful that you get to talk with a lady from the Bronx on the subway, even if you’re packed in on the train like sardines. Be grateful that you are where you are, because you’re there for a reason.

Even though the last lesson was a little sappy, it’s still true. I think I’ve learned more about myself in the last month than I did in the previous nineteen years (more or less).

Thanks for reading over these past few weeks – feel free to drop a comment and say “hi!” Here’s to the next five weeks!