Swarthmore College junior Danielle Charette effortlessly combines the life of the mind with a life of engagement. The former ISI Honors Scholar leads a classical reading group on campus as well as the Swarthmore Conservatives. She studies English literature at Swarthmore and last summer worked as a Robert F. Bartley Fellow with the Wall Street Journal editorial page. She writes columns for the Swarthmore Phoenix and Daily Gazette newspapers while serving on the editorial board of Swarthmore’s oldest literary magazine. The Connecticut native is also a research intern for the libertarian educational website IntellectualTakeout.org and a volunteer adviser to the youth group at her local Presbyterian church.
ISI recently chatted with Danielle about life on college campuses today; her time at the Wall Street Journal; her career ambitions; Burke, Madison, and Lincoln; and more.
- How did you get involved in ISI?
I first found out about ISI through some Googleing in the midst of my first semester in college. I was semihorrified at how relativist a lot of the students and faculty were on my campus and was eager for an intellectual alternative. As it turns out, Swarthmore is not that far from ISI headquarters, and I was invited to ISI’s Dinner for Western Civilization. From there, I was hooked. I applied to the ISI Honors Program for the summer after my freshman year.
- What has been the highlight of your undergraduate experience thus far?
One of the highlights has definitely been attending Liberty Fund conferences through ISI. The weekend seminars are wonderfully stimulating, and once back on campus I’m more confident in selecting high-quality classes and professors. There’s a lot to appreciate even at very progressive places like Swarthmore once you know where to look.
- What have you valued most about your ISI experience?
Truly, I’ve met a few lasting friends at the conferences. I used to think of politics strictly in terms of Republicans/Democrats and the electoral cycle. Now I appreciate political theory, classic literature, and questions of the soul.
- How have you spent your summers?
The summer after my freshman year, I traveled to three political/economic seminars affiliated with the Institute for Humane Studies, the Foundation for Economic Education, and ISI. This was my “foundational” summer. The following year, I worked as a Robert F. Bartley Fellow with the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board in Manhattan. It was an education in smart, thoughtful editorial writing and hopefully a model for my future career. This summer, I’m planning to improve my language skills and travel.
- Whom do you most admire, and why?
I admire the resolve of President Abraham Lincoln. He was deeply Christian and reflective but brave enough to enter the pragmatic world of politics. And, of course, he saved the Union.
- What advice would you give to other students who want to preserve the principles of liberty?
I would urge students to hit the books. The tradition of liberty has a rich history in political theory and literature—with plenty of classics to read over a lifetime. Contemporary politics is entertaining—I’m the first to admit—but the truly curious student must understand where these ideas come from. Losing elections can be demoralizing, while returning to the reflective, difficult struggle of thinkers like Burke and Madison provides you the proper perspective and hope.
- What are your plans for after graduation?
I’m hoping to earn a master’s degree in political theory or English literature to satisfy my own interest and curiosity. But honestly, I don’t think I have the patience for a PhD or the bureaucracy of academia. I would much prefer to cultivate a life of reflection and then enter journalism or open a small business. Once I establish a level of financial security, I’d really like to write novels or essays on the side and seek to influence popular culture.