By Ruby Van Dyk|| Assistant Managing Editor
Evelyn Farkas graduated from Franklin and Marshall in 1989. She has worked in the field of foreign policy ever since, spending time working under President Obama in the Department of Defense. Farkas has worked for the Senate Armed Services Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and U.S. Marine Corps University’s Command and Staff College. She also sits on F&M’s board of trustees. Ms. Farkas is now running for Congress in New York’s 17th District. Recently, Assistant Managing Editor Ruby Van Dyk ‘21 had the opportunity to interview Ms. Farkas. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Ruby Van Dyk: I’ve had the opportunity to read about your background, but I’m wondering if you could briefly introduce yourself to our readers and give them some insight into your career and your life?
Evelyn Farkas: Yes. First of all, I’m the child of Hungarian immigrants. My parents fled communist Hungary in 1956 really with nothing. When they got here, they had to work really hard to make ends meet. They spoke very little english and moved to Chappaqua, New York where they raised me and my siblings. We were not well off so I had to work very hard growing up, but I was lucky enough to be living in a place where the public school was outstanding. My guidance counselor helped me navigate the college application process which landed me at F&M.
RVD: What year did you graduate F&M and what did you major in? What were you a part of on campus?
EF: I graduated in ‘89 and I majored in Government. My minor was German but because I studied abroad in Freiburg, Germany, I ended up having enough credits for a double major by the time I graduated. I was also Vice President of student government. I joined a sorority sophomore year, then when I came back from studying abroad I decided to run for student government my junior year. Only at a small school like F&M could I actually do that and win. I was also President of the German club, which was mainly cultural, and I would say, culinary.
RVD: So, what do you feel like F&M taught you that you think benefited you not only in your career but also in life?
EF: I learned so much at F&M. I learned about comparative government. I think it’s quite interesting that back in the 80’s I was learning about Japanese Government versus Communist China, versus the Soviet Union, versus Western Europe and the United States. I also enjoyed my constitutional law class and my philosophy class. Some of these classes really stuck with me. Also my higher level German classes where I was reading really sophisticated newspaper articles. I feel that I learned a lot substantively, and I also made lifelong friendships–I think that’s had the biggest impact on my life. My closest friends in the world are friends from F&M.
RVD: Do you think that you benefited from the liberal arts model of education?
EF: Yes, I think I’m very well rounded as a person, thinker, and professional because of the interdisciplinary education that I received. I think the reason I can function as an executive in increasingly senior roles is because I learned how to cross the streams of thinking. To be a good leader at increasingly higher levels, you have to be able to think creatively. I think a liberal arts education allows you to do that.
RVD: Can you walk us through the trajectory of your career? When you were at F&M were you thinking you wanted to pursue foreign policy?
EF: I knew I wanted to do something international. As time went on, I think I got more of a sense that I’d like to be involved in diplomacy, but I didn’t know how I would do that. After giving my resume to an agency, I ended up taking a job with the Council on Foreign Relations. I really lucked out because I didn’t have any contacts there, my parents weren’t linked in to the council on foreign relations. But I have to say, I don’t think they would have pulled my resume out of that pile if I hadn’t had Franklin and Marshall College on it. I ended up working twenty years in Washington, equally divided between Congress and the Pentagon. My last job was working for President Obama when I was appointed by him to be his Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia.
RVD: What made you decide to run to represent New York’s 17th District in Congress? Was there a specific moment or particular issue that galvanized you to do that?
EF: Well, a couple things. First, ever since the 2016 election and Russia meddling in our elections, my hair has been on fire. Increasingly, I have realized that this is an all-hands-on-deck moment. I felt that the way I could continue my service was by raising awareness, by appearing on MSNBC, writing op-eds and explaining to the American people what was happening and helping people fight politically, but I wasn’t in the arena myself. Then, one morning while traveling in Tbilisi Georgia, I literally woke up and asked myself, “What would I do if Donald Trump won?” I realized I’d have to get engaged in politics in my home district. Two weeks later, my Congresswoman announced she was retiring. On one hand, it happened suddenly, but on the other it was a process that started with the Russian interference.
RVD: What issues are most important to you?
I’m running to protect the American Dream and what that means is obviously our political freedom, but also our economic opportunity. There is so much economic insecurity that needs to be addressed by congress and I aim to do that. I actually want to start by addressing the climate crisis, because nothing else matters with our Earth on fire and melting. A lot of how we would address our climate crisis will also help when it comes to economic insecurity. Then, in no particular order, obviously health care–we need to have a public option. We need to provide not only in my district, but nationwide, access to affordable housing. In addition, we need to do something about gun safety and women’s rights. Gun safety is a neglected issue under this President. I will work to make sure that the good legislation that was passed under this House of Representatives will get passed under the next one. Likewise, with women’s rights we need to codify, which means put into law, Roe v. Wade and provide access for reproductive health.
RVD: As F&M students approach postgraduate life, the future can seem daunting. What advice do you have for F&M seniors and upperclassmen as they embark on a new chapter of their life?
I was pretty lucky because I knew I wanted to do something international, and pretty early on I settled on international affairs. If you don’t have that advantage, I would say the most important skill you can hone is the skill of knowing what you don’t want to do and what you’re good at. So take the first job and don’t overthink it, but use it to figure out what you’re good at and what you like. Don’t let other people tell you, including your parents, what you should do or what you should like. Listen to your gut.
Ms. Farkas’ primary is in June.
Junior Ruby Van Dyk is the Assistant Managing Editor her email is firstname.lastname@example.org