When the College of the Holy Cross held its commencement exercises on May 24, ISI student leader Travis LaCouter addressed his classmates as valedictorian speaker. It was a fitting capstone to a fine undergraduate career. A double major in political science and Catholic studies, the New Hampshire native was a member of Holy Cross’s Honors Program and received various awards and distinctions. He also distinguished himself at the ISI Collegiate Network student newspaper at Holy Cross, the Fenwick Review. He started as a staff writer his freshman year and worked his way up to senior managing editor. Travis recently earned a prestigious summer fellowship with the Hertog Political Studies Program, a full-scholarship, six-week program in Washington, D.C. After that, ISI is proud to report, he will be joining the ISI team full-time as a regional program officer.
ISI recently caught up with Travis to talk about his undergraduate experiences and the road ahead.
- How did you get involved in ISI?
I started writing for the Fenwick Review, ISI’s Collegiate Network paper on campus, my freshman year. I worked my way up from staff writer to copy editor to senior managing editor. I started learning more about ISI from informational e-mails and my own research, and I really appreciated the work the organization did. I even applied to and was accepted to the ISI Honors Program last summer, but unfortunately I had to pass on that opportunity after securing an internship with the Common Sense Society in Budapest, Hungary, for the same summer.
- What has been the highlight of your undergraduate experience?
I studied in Washington, D.C., during the spring semester of my junior year. During that time I wrote a fifty-page research thesis that examined the Establishment Clause jurisprudence of Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy. I was also interning at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, so I was able to use a number of great resources and interview real experts in constitutional law, including former attorney general Ed Meese and Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas. During this thesis experience I really saw how my academic and professional passions came together.
In recognition of my finished work, the college awarded me the award for best Washington thesis that semester. I delivered a lecture on my topic to the college community, friends, and family, and answered questions afterward. Though I have enjoyed many outstanding opportunities at Holy Cross—such as participating in the Honors Program and being selected as the class of 2013 valedictorian—that thesis experience was the proudest and most gratifying experience of my undergraduate experience.
- What have you valued most about your ISI experience?
I would point toward my work with the Fenwick Review over the past four years. When I arrived on campus as a freshman, the Review was under hostile scrutiny by the Holy Cross administration and enjoyed a very low opinion in the student body. The main challenge facing us was how to regain credibility with the college community. I think we’ve succeeded in overcoming that challenge, mainly by publishing high-quality, thoughtful articles that offer reasoned arguments, not polemics. Through my leadership positions in the Review, I’ve been able to ensure that we maintain professionalism while still staying true to our principles. Indeed, I often get faculty, staff, and students coming up to me and thanking me for the good work the Review does for campus dialogue.
- What are your plans for after graduation?
Immediately after graduating I will be participating in the Hertog Program in Political Studies in Washington, D.C. The Hertog Program enables college students or recent graduates to spend six weeks studying classic political texts and learning from some of the country’s top scholars, political figures, and media personalities. After I complete that fellowship, I will join the ISI team as a regional program officer, helping other students benefit from the ISI experience as I did.
- What book has influenced you most?
The writings of Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) have influenced the development of my political thought greatly. Quite apart from his obvious spiritual role, Ratzinger is an insightful and profound political theorist. He grasps the grave danger of “the dictatorship of relativism,” according to which all value judgments become a matter of meaningless preference. This relativism paralyzes serious thought on fundamental questions of justice and equality, and ultimately cheapens and dehumanizes our political discourse. Ratzinger spent his life arguing against this deadly relativism in learned books like Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures and Values in a Time of Upheaval, which have clarified for me exactly what is at stake in current political debates over issues like the sanctity of life and the definition of marriage. Any effective and honest defense of the West must acknowledge what Ratzinger calls the “non-relativistic kernel” of democracy, which declares and defends man’s inherent dignity. My academic and professional efforts have largely been devoted to defending Truth against various types of relativism, and this is due mainly to the powerful arguments put forth by Ratzinger.