Joe Biden Visits Drake

So this week, Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, came to Drake University. The occasion was filled with majesty, grandeur, and a thriving political and economic discourse. Okay, so full disclosure: I was not there. But I heard it was great.

Sorry to disappoint everyone as I know you were counting on my firsthand political take and detailed economic analysis of the Vice President’s message. But I do have an excuse as I was in class and at work during VP’s appearance. Ah, yet another example of how the American political system keeps the working class down. Just kidding!…Well, kind of.

The point is that I saw the Vice President’s secret service SUVs, network news crews, and a whole bunch of important people in suits roaming around campus this week, and honestly, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I know that sounds disrespectful, but what I mean is that over my four years at Drake, I’ve gotten to see some pretty important people here on campus and in Des Moines. I’m talking about individuals like Michelle Obama, Jimmy Carter, and, Diane Sawyer hanging out on campus. I met Rashida Jones and Adam Scott and heard Tim Gunn speak. And the night before President Obama got elected for his second term, I went downtown to hear him speak and listen to the Boss play. (That’s Bruce Springsteen, for you youths out there.)

What I’m saying is, we’re kind of a big deal. And though I’m used to the rotating cast of politicians, celebrities, and world leaders rolling through campus, I’m never gonna stop appreciating just how cool it is.

J-term @ Drake

It’s only fitting that in the grips of Iowa’s frigid winter, I should delve into the Cold War.

For the past three weeks, I’ve been immersed in my j-term class, The Cold War Through Film. We’ve looked at various films that describe and characterize Cold War history and culture to gain a better understanding of the period, and its politics and ideology. And yes, what I’m saying is that we got to watch movies in class every day.

But honestly, the class, like all j-term courses at Drake, was a cool opportunity for me to step outside of my academic comfort zone and do something different, something interesting and challenging. I decided to take the class primarily because of my sketchy knowledge of Cold War history. I wanted to learn, and learn I did. We started with end of World War II and moved through history all the way to the late 80s, completing readings and lectures that described historical events and watching complementary films that portrayed history in unique ways. Some of the films I’d seen before (Platoon, Apocalypse Now, War Games,) and others I hadn’t (The Manchurian Candidate, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Red Dawn.) But each one was enlightening and helped us all think critically about the reality of the Cold War. And spoiler alert: The United States is not always the good guy.

The fact is, I’m leaving the class with a new appreciation of Cold War history and the ways in which economics, culture, and international relations are linked throughout American history. I’m a more critical consumer of the U.S. politics and political rhetoric. And in general, I’ve come to think carefully about the messages I’m given through culture and history. Isn’t that kind of what college is all about?

To learn more about j-term at Drake, check out the full list of on-campus and travel seminars here.

Des Music of Des Moines

This weekend marks the annual 80/35 Music Festival in Des Moines. While I sadly will not be able to make it this year, somehow the festival has found the strength to proceed without me. And I couldn’t be more excited for/jealous of my friends who will be there. It’s a great lineup of musicians I’ve loved for years (Dr. Dog, Best Coast, The Envy Corps, Conor Oberst, Cake…), and local artists I’m just now falling in love with (MAIDS, Max Jury, Parlours, The River Monks…).  I mean, come on; it’s gonna be great! If you’re telling me you didn’t jam out to “First Day of My Life” back in the day, then you are a boldfaced liar, cause that stuff is indie gold. As is the whole lineup, actually.

Last year’s 80/35 was no different. I caught a really cool mix of local artists and big-time acts. Some of my favorite times were listening to the incredible Dustin Smith then heading over to catch the equally incredible Yeasayer followed by the David Byrne and St. Vincent show to end all shows. And all of this music set against the beautiful downtown Des Moines skyline? It’s perfect.

But 80/35 is not just a one-time phenomenon. In fact, the festival is symptomatic of something that all us residents know to be true: Des Moines is consistently an incredible music city. It’s a small enough town that great artists get a chance to grow and you get to see them do it. But the city’s also big enough to host tons of festivals, showcases, and music venues. I’ve seen jazz, rock, metal, hip-hop, indie, folk, and more all within the city. So while Nashville’s great and New York has a lot going for it, the best place to check out music in this fair United States might just be Des Moines, Iowa.

 

The Pros and Cons of Winter in Des Moines

The first time I visited Drake University, there was a beautiful blanket of snow on the ground. As I watched the students bustle by in their winter gear, I thought just how idyllic the campus looked on a brisk winter’s day. There was only one problem: it was spring break. Where I come from in St. Louis, springtime means warm weather. But as I quickly discovered, all of my meteorological preconceptions went out the window in Iowa. So, in the spirit of this jolly season, I present the unique challenges and advantages of winter in Des Moines.

The Olympics are coming up, so we took to the slopes for some winter athleticism.

 Winter Olympics are coming up. Clearly, I’m ready. 

Con- Baby, It’s Cold Outside 

If anyone tells you it’s not cold here, they are either lying or from Minnesota. Sometimes it’s so cold that my walk to class feels like a Dickensian orphan’s journey to find bread. And while my personal struggles may not exactly be as bad as Pip’s or Oliver’s, it’s so much winder in Iowa than it is in London. So, call us even in the difficulty department?

 

Pro- The Most Wonderful Time of The Year

Yet, all the cold does bring some beautiful snow and no shortage of winter activities. From all the festivals around town to jolly winter events on campus, winter in Des Moines can be an absolute blast. We even went sledding at a local gold course to celebrate the winter weather.

Con- Tenth Avenue Freeze Out

So maybe more like a 30th Street Freeze Out. But the point is that winter in Iowa may or may not ever end. Last year it snowed in May. May. Just one of many things we have in common with Game of Thrones is that at Drake University you also always have to be on the lookout for winter. Even if you think it’s over, the lesson is do not put your boots away till the very end.

Pro-Let It Snow

With the Iowa winter raging outdoors, there’s always an excuse to spend time inside drinking hot chocolate and watching a movie. I mean, not that I need an excuse. That’s just the crazy way I live my life.

Everyone has their own tally system for the pros and cons of Des Moines winter, but for me, the pros weigh out. I didn’t fully know what I was getting myself into when I came to Drake, but every year, I embrace the joys of winter a little more. By the time I graduate, I bet I’ll even be used to it. I’ll also have quite the collection of winter scarves. So there’s that.

Da’ Moines

The reaction is usually the same. Anytime I tell someone I go to school in Des Moines, Iowa there’s a pleasant smile and a generic comment such as “Oh, nice” as if I stated that I was thinking about getting a fish or that I like chocolate ice cream. For most people, the mention of Iowa is a non-starter that conjures images of Field of Dreams, and well, just fields. So my favorite discussion is when I meet someone who’s been to Des Moines, who knows that on the other side of the fields is one of the coolest, most accessible, and most exciting cities in the Midwest. Here are my top 3 greatest things about Des Moines that nobody knows:

A view of the Des Moines skyline from my bike ride around the downtown sculpture park.

A view of the Des Moines skyline from my bike ride around the downtown sculpture park.

1. It’s a Big Small Town

Downtown Des Moines is beautiful and usually pretty active day or night. But unlike some of the other cities in the Midwest, it’s an accessible place to get around. While St. Louis, Chicago, and Kansas City all kind of sprawl outwards, Des Moines is centered and easy to navigate. I mean, I still get lost occasionally, but at this point, it’s really my own fault.

2. Young Professionals Are Everywhere

Des Moines has all the best aspects of a college town with young people, job opportunities, and activities. The city always feels energetic because there are so many young people doing whatever it is that hip young professionals are supposed to do.

3. City on the Rise

From the music scene to the food to the art, so many homegrown Des Moines products are making it national. And for good reason too. Culturally, this is a city that has a lot to offer, and it’s only going to continue to grow as more and more people realize that.