Cordelia McGeown

Make no small plans

Cordelia is a final year student in Queen’s University Belfast reading History and International studies; she will be continuing her studies at Sciences Po Paris completing a Masters in European Affairs come August 2017. Cordelia has been active in student and youth politics throughout her education from local youth forums to leading her college’s Student Union as a Vice-president. She was the youngest ever elected NUS-USI officer at the age of 16 and has gone on to become a Fulbright Student Leader studying in Kansas and Washington state. She has just returned from her year abroad in Canada, where she had the opportunity to speak in the Canadian parliament. Since returning Cordelia has taken leadership roles as president of three student societies in Queens and represented Northern Ireland at the Council of Europe’s World Democracy Forum on Education.

Cordelia McGeown

Queen’s University Belfast

History and International Relations

Work Placement
Representative Gerry Connolly & American Association of University Women

Host Family
Maureen Dowling

Date Published
June 15, 2017

“We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time. There’s this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious as we lay alone after a party, or pack up our books when we give in and go out – that it is somehow too late. That others are somehow ahead. More accomplished, more specialized. More on the path to somehow saving the world, somehow creating or inventing or improving. That it’s too late now to BEGIN a beginning and we must settle for continuance, for commencement”

When I first came to America as an adult, it was as part of a Fulbright studentship. I naively thought I understood the world; and I dare say, that to have the gumption to suggest that that I was previously naive, does not lessen the fact that I still am.

As it was an educational program, we were allowed to order 10 books which would be there when we arrived. I added in the book, the Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan to my list. I had read a blog about it being good and threw it in as it was just a collection and I felt it would be an easy read.

It was not.

It was the first book I picked up as it was the smallest and it was the last book I put down that summer. I read it, reread it, lent it people, bought people copies and read it again. The book itself is an interesting collection of essays, stories both fiction and non-fiction written by Keegan as an undergrad at Yale. The title piece and the book’s namesake is The Opposite of loneliness; an essay looking at the uneasy adjustment final year students have to make when they are finally put in the position of leaving education behind to enter the great adult unknown. It was published as her graduation piece in the Yale Newspaper. Just days after those words “We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time.” Were eternalised, Keegan’s boyfriend drove their car off the road in a tragic accident which would end Keegan’s life.

We are so young and we don’t know how much time we have.

As a class, we have a lot of amazing speakers come in, they talk to us, tell us their stories and they then tell us how ‘amazing’ we are (a huge pinch of salt is being consumed as you read this). I know that I can’t be the only one in the class to see that statement rather cynically. There is so much that needs to be done and that can be done in this world. In the age of social media, it’s very hard to feel accomplished. There is always a 12 year old accepted to Harvard, or a 15 year old who is making an app to reunite refugees. There is an ever-looming sense of need, a need to do everything, a need to meet everyone and a need to see everything.

My own personal want, is to help Europe have a stronger education and healthcare facilitation. To have the best policies from around Europe be united to allow everyone to get the very best out of their systems from the wealth of knowledge that Europe has. It is so exciting but the task at times, seems impossible.

This feeling seems to be compounded by being in DC. I try to walk around a different area of the city whenever I can, though mostly because I get lost and can’t understand google maps (it is not as easy as it looks). When walking around federal circle, I saw a sign put up to explain the architecture of DC titled. Make No little plans.

A quotation which was first said by Chicagoan Daniel Burnham in 1893 but made famous in the form “make no small plans” by Churchill. Much debate ranges over whether or not he stole it. Seeing as I am writing this in America (and Churchills mother was American) I’ll go with the people of Chicago and agree that it was ruthlessly stolen by a rotten Brit etc etc. (Also when you google American quotations British people stole, Churchill’s Wikipedia is the third result, now you can make your own assumptions about that).

And to come back to Durham. He wanted us to stretch ourselves to aim for infinity at the very least, or in my case, strong health and social policies. Not because we will achieve them, we most likely won’t but if we don’t try we never will. Burnham ends “Remember that our sons and our grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us.” And I hope they will, even if I can not accomplish my dreams, I hope they are achieved.

Washington Ireland is all about that. The class of 2017 is great, I have spoken to all my classmates, read their cvs and bios. They’re amazing, they’re exceptional but the class of 2018 I hope will be better. The class of 2019 will be superb and the class of 2020 will just knock us all out of the park.

Keegan was right, there is an insane amount of pressure on people today to be everything, to succeed in ways which feel impossible. How many fellowships can you do? How many countries can you visit? How many straight As can you get? What is your worth and what is your purpose?

Screw that pressure. There is a happy medium. There must be, for we should make no little plans and we should be happy in success of just 1% of those plans succeeding. For if Denis Mulcahy hadn’t thought big and succeeded in bringing just 6 children to American in the first summer of project children, then he would never have been able to bring 23000 children over in the decades which followed.

We are so young. We have so much more to give and we will aim to never make little plans.