UT alumna Shamila Chaudhary returned to campus to deliver the second lecture of this year’s Jesup Scott Honors College Distinguished Lecture Series.
The event, titled “The Meaning of America, at Home and Abroad,” took place Feb. 8 in Doermann Theatre. Chaudhary read an essay which detailed her definition of the true meaning of America.
UT President Sharon Gaber introduced Chaudhary.
“Shamila Chaudhary is a foreign policy expert who specializes in U.S.-Pakistan relations, Pakistan domestic politics and security policy, and regional issues in South Asia,” Gaber said. “She is senior adviser to Dean Vali Nasr at the School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University.”
Chaudhary earned an M.A. in international affairs from the American University School of International Service and a B.A. in English literature and women’s studies from the University of Toledo.
She began her essay recalling her memories of reading Walt Whitman’s poetry as an American literature major at UT.
“I read about his vision of America, of living in America, of being an American,” she said. “As I continued to read, I became hungry and nostalgic all at once, enraptured by a vision of America so industrious and primitive at the same time. The more I realized about our current nation, the more questions I had.”
Chaudhary said Whitman’s works serve as a wake-up call to dangerous economic and political trends today that favor economic and political elites over wide spots of the country.
She felt Whitman’s works were a “little Post-it note from America,” reminding her that she wasn’t alone during this dangerous transition, and it would be okay.
“I wish I could say these very things to anyone who is stateless, homeless or simply just lost,” Chaudhary said. “Unfortunately, a lot of them need to hear this message.”
She said that over 65 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide just in the last year.
“Intense policy debates over people living in the states without immigration waivers have come to define America,” Chaudhary said. “These issues are not far from our own lives.”
In a question and answer session, she asked the audience, “What happened?”
The audience responded with their own questions.
One audience member asked Chaudhary what it’s like to be a woman in government right now, to which Chaudhary replied, “It’s great to be a woman in national security. Because of the issues with women’s rights, it’s very fulfilling to do the work that I do.”
Second-year biology major Grace Garcia attended the lecture because she was very interested to hear what Chaudhary said about being American.
“I loved her authenticity,” Garcia said.
Chaudhary closed her lecture with a childhood memory of sitting outside on a summer night, sun setting, children playing, the smells of pinewood trees and chicken frying on the grill and the whistles of trains in the distance.
“There are millions of memories like these across the country, a panorama of experiences as complex, dynamic and beautiful as the land itself. Let’s go find them,” she said.