From AC 2nd to… Capitol Hill

Our first From AC 2nd interview of the fall features Caleb Graff (’10), a History and Social Studies Ed major who left his job as a high school teacher and coach to take up a career in politics. After earning his master’s degree from Claremont Graduate University in California, Caleb moved to Washington, DC, where he’s currently a research fellow with the House of Representatives’ influential Ways and Means Committee.

When you came to Bethel, were you already interested in studying history, or did that click after you started college? Was politics also an early interest, or something that came later?

I have loved history ever since I was a little kid. My mom would read to me books about Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Boone, and George Washington and an interest in their lives never left me. I continued to read throughout my childhood and once I entered college I knew I wanted, more than anything else, to study history. Bethel’s history department strengthened that love and taught me more than I could possibly imagine.

My interest in politics did not emerge until after I finished college. Obviously, history and politics are intertwined, but my interest in college was the historical impact of politics, not the current state of affairs. It was not until I started teaching full-time as a High School History teacher that I became focused on the day-to-day impact politics can have on our lives.

What do you think is the most significant way that you grew or changed as a result of studying History at Bethel?

Studying history at Bethel prepared me for both graduate school and for work on the Hill. As a history student I was challenged to become a better writer, researcher, and freethinker. The wide variety of classes offered by the Bethel History department affords their students an opportunity to broaden their horizons and be pushed to think outside the box. The value in that cannot be overstated, and I feel certain that my time in the history classes at Bethel prepared me for my current job.

Caleb GraffSpeaking of… What do you do now, and where do you hope you’ll be in ten years? What connections do you see between your History major and your career?

I am currently a research fellow with the Health subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee. We are the primary driver of Medicare policy in the country, and we are working to reform the program to make it more affordable, efficient, and fair. Healthcare policy is one of my passions, the other being education policy. This opportunity has been an amazing starting point for my career on the Hill. My primary tasks are researching information for upcoming bills, breaking down current bill proposals, and other tasks the committee may need. In ten years I would like to be a Chief of Staff for a Congressman or Senator who holds to the values I have.

My History major from Bethel taught me the skills that I use everyday in this position. Research, writing, and thinking clearly on tough issues come directly from my time at Bethel. If you plan to work on the Hill or go to graduate school a History major is a great place to start!

Tell us a bit about your master’s program. Did you feel well prepared for your studies at Claremont? Any advice for undergraduate readers thinking about grad school?

My Master’s degree focused on American Politics and Public Policy. Claremont lets you craft your own degree, so I was able to pick and choose courses in both disciplines. I was able to take courses in how to best write policy, American Political thought, Public-Private Collaboration, and Political Philosophy, to name a few. The program at Claremont is one that prepares you for life after graduate school by teaching you to be a well-rounded thinker and writer.

I did feel well prepared in part due to the great professors Bethel has. Dr. Gehrz and Dr. Kooistra for example, continually challenged me to be both a better student and writer. They also taught me the importance of both thinking for yourself and doing high quality research – essentials for graduate school.

If I had any advice to give it would be this: take the time to learn how to write, and write well, now as an undergraduate student.

This is something I am still learning how to do. I remember clear as day getting back my Senior Thesis from Dr. Gehrz with his comments, “well researched, but be sure to watch for common grammatical mistakes.” Unfortunately, many students are entering college today with inadequate knowledge of how to write properly (I was one of them!) Their grammar, syntax, and prose are not up to par with their parents’ or grandparents’ generations. However, they can learn these skills if they take the time to do so. Bethel has a great writing center; use it! Take a College Writing course that is challenging, and be willing to listen to your professor’s comments. If you do so, you will be much better prepared for graduate school than I was. I had to work really hard on my writing ability, and if I would have done more at Bethel to prepare myself (as Dr. Gehrz and Kooistra pointed out to me often) I would not have had to work as hard as I did in graduate school.

Caleb and Jill GraffHow did you go from teaching social studies to working in politics? Was that change a difficult decision and transition?

For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a teacher. My parents both teach, my grandfather was a teacher, and my aunt and uncle are both teachers. It runs deep in the Graff blood. Thus, as you can imagine, leaving teaching was not an easy decision. I was lucky enough to teach American History and Government and coach both football and basketball — in many ways my dream job. However, things kept creeping in and affecting both my wife’s job (she is a nurse) and my job that were in no way related to what we were doing in our day-to-day work life.

Without going into the specific issues, many of the difficulties my wife and I encountered are issues that working men and women face everyday. And more often than not, they come from bad policy. I wanted to help change that, even though my impact might be minimal. Thus, I decided to leave a job that I love and to enter into the gladiatorial arena (thanks Dr. Cragg!) that is American politics. It may be cheesy or naïve, but this is the way I feel I can best serve my country.

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