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Sample Profile: Lauren

I was born to a comfortable life, neither hardscrabble nor insouciant. My parents were well-educated and middle-class, crediting the one to the other; they were the first members of their family to attend college and bettered their lives through study and hard work. As their only daughter, I was frequently encouraged to carry on the tradition.

Home was Boulder, just off the CU campus. I'm still proud to be a Coloradoan and root for the Buffaloes when I happen to catch a game, but region was a much less important component of my self-identity than for many members of older generations. After all, I traveled broadly in my childhood, taking in all the wonders of the vast American expanse as well as the diverse cultures of the world. Instead of KUSA, the local NBC affiliate, I got my news from the New York Times, and later nytimes.com (and eventually, Twitter). So, when it came time to go to college, I shot off applications all over the country.

I ended up at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Subverting my parents' expectations of practical education, I decided to major in the decidedly impractical field of American history. This actually worked out pretty well. I always did the readings, spoke up in discussion sections, and was rewarded lavishly with high marks and praise. College taught me to value truth and be suspicious of doctrinaire politics (whichever the slant), so I began to identify as a socially-conscious Independent. My parents were occasional mainline Protestants of a vague cast and I've shed even that for an entirely secular worldview. 

On graduating, I managed to find a series of office jobs in town. I was thankful to be employed at all, considering the financial crisis, but I was never intellectually sated. I finally decided on graduate school over law or business school; at the time, the romance of expanding the shores of human knowledge overrode fears of unemployment and eventual starvation unto death.

Three years later, I serve Brian Balogh, the Compton Professor of History at the University of Virginia, as teaching assistant and dog-robber. I study the history of environmental regulation. The promise of scholarship still retains some of its luster and I've found a radiant satisfaction in teaching, but the rigorous demands of the program and the apocalyptic outlook of the academic job market weigh oppressively on my thoughts. From time to time, as I heat up a can of beans by hotplate or grade papers late into the cold-dark night, that office job and its steady paycheck seem almost enviable.

In my  mid-20s, the optimism of youth has worn a little thin. The recovery has been slow and hard for my generation and the college education that put me deeply into debt is no longer the guarantee of prosperity and stability that it was for my parents. I worry about the challenges that America faces in an increasingly multi-polar world and its ability to meet those challenges and still remain true to its distinct national character.  I wonder how the world that I'll shortly inherit, wracked by economic upheaval, threatened by climate change, and unable to correct its course due to the partisan deadlock of the old guard, compares with that of a generation past and whether or not I'll do a better job when it's my turn.

I speak English and, after a few beers, a bit of poorly-conjugated, but impressive-sounding French. Unlike most of my fellow graduate students, I'm handy with a socket wrench and have a knack for discrete mathematics. My favorite books are Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita and John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces. I am often accompanied by my enormous Newfoundland dog, General Pulaski.