Kulycky's Law: Never Say Never By Lisa Mastny Ever since she was 5 years old, junior Maya Kulycky has dreamed of becoming president of the United States. On career day in kindergarten, when her peers said they wanted to be firemen and nurses, Kulycky firmly told her teacher that she wouldn't settle for anything less than the White House. Her teacher laughed and urged her to make another choice because, she said, a woman couldn't be president. The next day, her mother stormed into the school and, as Kulycky tells it, raised hell, criticizing the kindergarten program for fostering low expectations in its students. It was one of the most memorable days in Kulycky's life. "From that moment on, I knew that I had to prove my teacher wrong, to change these ideas about what is acceptable in society, in politics," she said. "For many, the idea of a black woman president is crazy. I know it's going to be a struggle. I am anticipating a fight." But so far, things have been going her way. Two weeks ago, Kulycky was named a 1995 Truman Scholar, the only student from Hopkins and from her home state of Illinois to receive the $30,000 award. In addition to partially funding her senior year at Hopkins and two years of graduate study, the scholarship will help her to obtain preferential admission to graduate institutions as well as future employment with federal agencies. The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, established by Congress in 1975 as the official federal memorial to honor the nation's 33rd president, rewards up to 75 students across the country every year for their outstanding leadership potential and strong interest in government or public service careers. To compete for the award, Kulycky first had to be nominated by the five-member Hopkins Truman Scholarship Committee of professors, academic advisers and a former scholarship winner. She then underwent an extensive interviewing and application process, which included writing a sample public policy analysis. Keenly aware of the challenges faced by children in urban areas--her mother teaches first grade at an inner-city elementary school, her father teaches English in a Chicago community college--Kulycky chose to write about urban empowerment. The government needs to fund and build community centers, encourage after-school activities and establish job training for urban youth, she said. "We have to change the circumstances in which children are raised and experience life, the way my mother does when she works with kids in the classroom," she said. "I think about the lives my parents had when they grew up and then wonder about the lives that they could have had, if I could have helped improve them." One of the biggest problems with government empowerment programs, Kulycky said, is that they rarely go through an evaluative process. "Programs are being implemented but are not followed up or evaluated," she said. "If they turn sour, which many do, they are never weeded out and just end up taking away from the more successful programs. Private organizations may also fund a program for two to five years and then abandon it for a new project, leaving no one to pick up the pieces. I think the government should play that role." Like many of her peers, Kulycky is disenchanted with the direction of politics these days. But instead of turning her away from her future goals, current events have strengthened her desire to enact change. "I think people today just lack ideas, a new way of looking at things," she said. "It's always a great feeling when you find out that people aren't necessarily against you, but have just never thought about things in the same way. I don't necessarily see huge structural changes happening in the near future, but sometimes things change; things just happen." Neither Democrat nor Republican, Kulycky envisions herself slipping into power the back way, by means of a third party. "It's going to be a lot harder to get into mainstream politics, but I'm ready for the challenge," she said. "I think the party system is metamorphosing, with Democrats and Republicans becoming more similar and third parties growing in power. Just look at the support Ross Perot got in the 1992 presidential campaign." After graduating from Hopkins next year with a degree in political science, Kulycky will apply her Truman scholarship to law school and plans to practice constitutional or criminal law before entering politics full time. Judging from her activities this year at Hopkins, her leadership credentials are already impressive. Very active in the Student Council, Kul-ycky is a junior class representative, co-chair of the Committee for Student Diversity, ambassador for alumni affairs and even on the Committee on Committees, which oversees all council activities. She is also involved with the Women's Center, NAACP and Black Student Union on campus, reflecting her interest in race and gender issues. Last year, she received the Sideman Academic Award to participate in the Department of Political Science's Washington Internship Program and worked for a semester at the lobbying organization Americans For Democratic Action in Washington, D.C. She has also been on the dean's list at Hopkins and is a member of Pi Sigma Alpha Political Science Honor Society. Despite all her activities and academic responsibilities, Kulycky is hardly an introverted workaholic. She makes time for her friends and her hobbies, which include cooking, fashion, the arts and reading. "My parents were both English majors, so I grew up on Shakespeare and Grimm's Fairy Tales. I also try to read the newspaper every day, especially the D.C. gossip page because I think things like fashion, style and pop culture really reflect what is going on in society. I was involved in theater in high school, and I really like the arts because you get to meet people who push the limits of society and what is tolerable. I have a lot of hobbies and activities because if I don't do them, I'm bored." Getting involved and using your talents is the best way to achieve personal success and improve society as a whole, Kulycky said. "Everybody has to do their part," she said. "When I use my talents and experiences, I feel like I'm giving gifts. I try to take what I am given and use it to improve something around me, to affect as many people as possible. I don't want to be in some obscure world where I don't see the effects of what I do." If she had to choose between having children and being a politician, she would choose the latter, no question. "That's like saying, Would you rather help two kids or two million kids?" she said. "It's as simple as that. And that's how I look at it. But I don't think I'm going to have to make that choice. Whatever happens happens." With her brimming optimism, Kulycky doesn't really worry about the future just yet. "I've internalized the challenges," she said. "My parents always primed me for them. They never pulled the wool over my eyes about anything, especially race and gender. I know nothing is going to be handed to me, and you have to work hard for what you achieve. But the challenge no longer surprises and scares me. Things tend to flow and work themselves out."
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