In September 2011, Kelsey Bacon (’12) was invited to address the incoming class of freshman at Northeastern University’s convocation ceremonies. Kelsey, who is a dual major in History and International Affairs, was asked to give the entering students a sense of the opportunities available to them at Northeastern. Kelsey was chosen to deliver this speech not only because of her outstanding academic performance, but also because throughout her time at Northeastern she has identified and optimized numerous opportunities available to her. We recently asked Kelsey about her speech and about her experiences as a History major at Northeastern.
1. What were the main themes of your convocation speech? What did you try to impart to new students at Northeastern?
My speech was intended to encourage entering students to take full advantage of the opportunities available at Northeastern. I wanted to convey to new students that they may never know what they are capable of until they try. It is important to take risks and to push oneself. And even more importantly, it is perfectly acceptable not to have everything figured out from the start. I used myself as an example: in 2004 I graduated high school in Bermuda and moved to New York City to be an actress. Eight years later I am a senior at university and I am preparing to take the Foreign Service Exam.
2. Have your courses in the History department changed the way you understand the world?
Of course. The list of areas in which to focus in history is endless and, as a result, an undergraduate History major’s path can be highly influenced by the specialties of the faculty. I knew upon entering Northeastern that I wanted to study Russian/Soviet history. I was lucky to find Professor Burds’ course on “Soviet Secret Police” in my freshman spring semester; I became fascinated by the subject. I also enrolled in his seminars “A History of Espionage” and “Spy Wars: Covert Operations in WWII,” and my Honors junior/senior project centers on five British elites who spied for the Soviets, the Cambridge Five. It is not that I was an avid James Bond fan, but I was incredibly interested in international relations. I had never realized the role that intelligence operations played in the course of history, or the enormity of the intelligence community’s role. In fact, my perspective on WWII has changed entirely following these courses.
3. Did your experiences in Russia change your college experience?
Absolutely. My internship with the U.S. Department of State at the American Embassy in Moscow (fall 2010) changed my career goals entirely. Prior to applying I had never really considered the Foreign Service; I was originally interested in becoming a high school history teacher. I initially saw the internship as a unique opportunity to experience Russia, to supplement my study of Russian history and to expand upon the Russian language courses I had begun at Northeastern. The three months I spent working in Public Affairs in Moscow were so interesting and rewarding that I applied for another internship with the State Department for the following fall and for Northeastern’s first Dialogue of Civilizations to Russia that summer. I left Moscow with invaluable American and Russian colleagues and a great appreciation for cultural and educational exchanges between countries. Once I returned to school, I began taking more advanced political science courses and I am even planning to minor in political science.
4. What aspects of being a history major do you feel have prepared you for life after college?
There are several. First and foremost I was afforded the opportunity to do archival research. If I ever pursue law school or my doctorate, for instance, this skill will prove instrumental. The ability to research effectively in general – whether online or in a library or archive – is useful in any field. Also, the ability to write concisely and eloquently, which is a must for a history major, is an essential tool for a Foreign Service Officer who may be required to send frequent cables regarding certain conditions at their respective post.
Interview by Zach Scarlett