Josh Sande ’12 Discovers Academic Curiosity and Passion for Public Service

Posted on March 16th, 2015 by

Josh Sande (far left) at Gustavus's 2012 Commencement Ceremony.

Josh Sande (far left) at Gustavus’s 2012 Commencement Ceremony.

Some students come to Gustavus Adolphus College with a clear career path already in mind. They know what they want to major in and what they want to be involved in and from the moment they step foot on campus they work toward completing that plan. Then there are students like Gustavus alumnus Josh Sande ’12. Sande was admittedly a supremely unmotivated high school student who says he felt like his time at Gustavus was a blank canvas that he could make his own.

“I like to think that I made the most of it. I am truly grateful for the unique freedom and variety of experience Gustavus allows its students. It allowed me to play tennis and the cello as I had done in high school, while exploring new areas of interest,” Sande said. “After a year or so of trial and many errors, I developed an interest in politics and political science as a means to achieve social progress. Through other activities, summer internships, and above all, the people and ideas I was exposed to, I discovered an academic curiosity that I didn’t think I would ever have. I entered Gustavus an unmotivated and indifferent student, and I left it a thoughtful and intellectually engaged one.”

Sande eventually settled on a double major in political science and philosophy. It was through his philosophy courses that he met Professor Doug Huff, who turned out to be one of many faculty mentors for Sande.

“Doug had an infectious love of the great philosophers that made his classes enthralling, but I also admired the work-life balance he was able to achieve with teaching, travel, writing his plays, and building relationships with his students outside of lectures,” Sande said.

When Sande wasn’t in the classroom, he stayed busy through involvement in a number of organizations on campus including Student Senate, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the varsity men’s tennis team, the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra, and the College’s student newspaper, the Gustavian Weekly.

“Looking back, there were definitely times where I prioritized these activities above academics, and my grades suffered on more than one occasion,” Sande said. “I wish I could say I regret that, but so much of who I am and what I plan to do came out of traveling abroad with the tennis team, arguing heatedly over line-items in Student Senate, attending the Nobel and Building Bridges Conferences, or discussing values and brotherhood with fellow SAE members, that I wouldn’t take any of it back. These activities cemented my passion for public service, allowed me access to leadership opportunities that you simply don’t get in academia, and made my years there infinitely more enjoyable.”

Sande recently completed an internship at The White House.

Sande recently completed an internship at The White House.

While Professor Huff proved influential to Sande on the academic side, head men’s tennis coach Tommy Valentini and the late Steve Wilkinson had a similar effect on the co-curricular side.

“Hardly any tennis player leaves Gustavus unaffected by the life philosophy of the three crowns, and I was no different,” Sande said. “Steve’s legacy offers decisive proof that success does not have to come at the expense of your ethics or integrity, and Tommy has excelled at bringing this mindset to a new generation of Gustavus tennis players.”

After graduating from Gustavus, Sande became a corps member of Teach for America. He was placed in Kansas City, Missouri, and taught second grade general studies.

“It remains the most challenging thing I have ever done, and I came away with a profound respect for teachers everywhere who have chosen to make a career out of public education,” Sande said. “More than that, I witnessed first-hand the plight of an underprivileged and predominantly African American community struggling through a system that doesn’t work nearly as well for them as it has for me. My short time there and the kids I was lucky enough to teach, serve as a constant source of inspiration, and is my primary motivation for remaining in public service.”

More recently Sande completed an internship in the White House Social Office, which falls under the Office of the First Lady Michele Obama. His duties included assisting the social office staff with the planning and staffing of any event that took place inside the White House. Sande was present for a number of events including PBS’s In Performance at the White House: A Salute to the Troops, The Kennedy Center Honors, the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony, and Medal of Honor presentations. He was also selected to individually oversee the application, selection, and vetting process of volunteer holiday decorators for the White House Christmas decorations.

“It was hard work and long hours, but I got to witness and be a very small part of some truly historic moments,” Sande said. “Coming to work, even if it was at 5:30 in the morning, never got old.”

With that internship now completed, Sande is pondering his next move. He is looking to stay in public service in some capacity and plans to apply to graduate school for the fall of 2016. In preparation for that step, Sande will be attending the Summer Programme on International Affairs and Multilateral Governance this June and July at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Switzerland.

“I don’t have a grand plan as of right now,” Sande said. “I just take the next best opportunity that presents itself; it’s worked out so far.”


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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