by Amy Larsen, joint-degree student at NYU Law and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, outgoing president of NYU Law's ACS Student Chapter and a Next Generation Leader.
Our democracy is, and will always be, a work in progress. Accordingly, public service requires both an urgency of now, and a patience with the longer term trajectory of making change, whether in the context of issues like criminal justice reform, climate change or consumer protection. While grand victories can be won, more often, public service consists, rather mundanely in Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray's words, of a "steady persistence of unsung, everyday effort...to improve the quality of life for others." In short, heeding the call to public service is often a halting and unceremonious, yet deeply rewarding, labor of love.
Cordray’s speech reminds us that the messy and imperfect nation-perfecting process requires bringing our best selves to this honorable undertaking. Cordray offers the insights of someone who has gracefully navigated the pressure cooker of American politics, demonstrating conviction, endurance, and humility in his own life and in fighting for broader change. His resilience and continued idealism in spite of the defeats and delays that have intermittently punctuated his career path are inspiring and refreshing. Cordray’s story also counsels in favor of welcoming temporary defeat as a teacher, all while maintaining perspective and optimism. Perhaps counterintuitively, it is precisely those moments in which democracy feels the least satisfying, accountable, and responsive, when the call to leadership and service must be taken up with renewed vigor, commitment, and civic engagement. As such, much like an ACS talk on consumer protection that I heard Cordray deliver a few months ago, this personal reflection seems to double as a call to action: It is as an important reminder that each of us is responsible for shepherding this great country and the causes we care about forward, despite the inevitable setbacks and frustrations. No one is off the hook in our continuous nation-improving project, and so we must press on, attempting as we go to achieve just the right balance of patience and urgency, cautiousness and courage, humility and brazen idealism.
Read CFPB Director Richard Cordray’s speech on public service at The Ohio State University John Glenn Leadership Forum here.