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Department: History

Jaitly History

Rishi Jaitly ’04

Policy Analyst, Google Inc.

The versatility of history

Though I arrived at Princeton inclined to prepare myself for medical school (largely due to family traditions and culture), my decision to enter the history department was born out of a thirst for intellectual adventure and meaning.

To be sure, many around me questioned the “functional” utility of a degree in history but I trusted the University’s good judgment that pursuing one’s intellectual passions is the surest way to build capacity to learn and contribute in modern society.

As an avid fan of archives, a deep thinker about my family’s past, and someone who never forgets that our world is the product of an infinite number of decisions made by an innumerable number of human beings, history spoke to me in a way that other disciplines could not. It resonated with me personally. The field’s versatility afforded me the opportunity to bring together unanswered personal questions and long-term intellectual interests; for instance, my senior thesis focused on United States immigration policy towards India between World War II and 1965 (the period of policymaking in Washington that ultimately enabled my family to immigrate from India to the U.S.).

History’s unique ability to be, at once, intellectually flexible and personally poignant aroused in me academic passions I had not felt before. The department’s ability to be macro and micro in its examination of the human condition in all its past forms became deeply meaningful to me.

A focus on public interest work

Since earning my degree, I have—broadly speaking—gone on to pursue a career in public interest work.

My first venture was with College Summit, Inc., a national nonprofit organization working to increase the college enrollment rates of low-income schools across the United States. I played a number of roles for College Summit and ended up leading public policy and government affairs for the organization. In that capacity, I led all federal fundraising, lobbying, and advocacy work for College Summit in Washington, D.C. It was an exhilarating experience—to say the least—to have the opportunity to play a leadership role at one of this country’s premier nonprofit organizations.

After two years with College Summit, I joined Google Inc., where I remain to this date. At Google, the primary focus of my work is international government affairs, where I help build dialogues and partnerships with governments around the world as the company stakes out positions on Internet policy and aims to solidify strong public-private partnerships. I also work with—the philanthropic arm of Google—to help manage investments in the United Nations system and develop the company’s advocacy strategy on issues such as poverty, climate change, and public health. Finally, my work at Google also entails corporate communications for the company’s CEO. To date, my experience at Google has been an extraordinary way to add value to a human organization with a clearly defined and, to be sure, ambitious social mission of organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful.

I have also had the privilege of serving on Princeton University’s Board of Trustees in the years immediately following my bachelor’s degree. This, too, has been an unparalleled opportunity to help shape the direction of an institution whose role in modern global life can go unsaid.

All of the platforms on which I have had the privilege to serve—College Summit, Google, and Princeton—have given me unique opportunities to contribute to public life. While an undergraduate, the notion of pursuing a career “in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations” was quite appealing to me. Only in my alumni career have I realized the myriad of ways in which one can “serve”—I hope to be engaged in public interest work for the rest of my career.

Value of my degree

Though it was initially difficult to ascertain the value of my degree in modern society, it is quickly becoming apparent that the degree is allowing me to thrive.

Given the complexity and abundance of professional opportunities available in professional life today, it’s difficult to receive any education that can prepare one completely for a position in the modern workforce—save, of course, on-the-job training.

Generally speaking, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that a raw set of skills are important in modern professional life. In my limited experience thus far, my sense is that they are: the ability to learn quickly; the ability to understand surrounding human dynamics; and the ability to communicate (in both written and verbal form).

Princeton’s emphasis on liberal arts education—and the history department’s ability to teach widely, deeply, and in a social context—all have certainly been invaluable to any professional success I’ve had thus far. Though it’s not possible to put a concrete value on the degree’s impact to date, I can say with confidence that—as my career progresses—its value will become even clearer.

I only wish I had known some of these things when I was an undergraduate so I could have appreciated my academic career more fully—if only I had opportunities to read an essay like this!

Many thanks to Princeton and the history department for preparing me well for life.