Seth Bergeson: idealist, pragmatist, activist

William Witwer

20080628-06-profiles-webEnthusiastic student activist and senior Seth  Bergeson is not so enthused about how hard it is to rework the world’s problems. But he tries to remain optimistic.

“I have learned about how slow the process of change is and how that process, oftentimes, comes to a grinding halt and meets some real friction,” said Bergeson.

Bergeson strives to refine the world through a combination of “idealism, pragmatism, and activism.” Among other things, he recently received a Humanity In Action grant which allowed him to go to Denmark for five weeks to study human rights.

“A lot of people come out of Whitman with this real ‘change the world’ [attitude], and then at a certain point you need to reconcile your desire to change the world with just surviving the world,” said Bergeson. “I think we need to preserve our ideals.”

His college-age idealism aside, he has real experience working to make our planet a better place.  Bergeson was an active member of the Youth Development Initiative (YDI) in Sierra Leone which focuses on teaching youth how to improve their situations. According to Bergeson’s close friend, senior Daniel Grant, the YDI does important work.

“It empowers local youth to change their communities,” said Grant. “Instead of going in and being just another example of America going in and changing communities, it gives them the power to change themselves.”

Grant was actually the author of phrase, “changing the world through idealism, pragmatism, and activism,” though he claims he was just paraphrasing something Bergeson said. Grant has absolute faith in his friend’s ability to achieve his goals.

“Being in a place like Whitman you kinda say sure, you’re gonna change the world, you’re gonna do great things, but I think Seth really has potential to go out and actually do it,” said Grant.

Bergeson also studied abroad in Senegal, a decision he agonized over because of his love for Whitman, but he believes it greatly broadened his understanding of culture.   Through the lens of Senegalese culture, he was able to better observe US culture.

“I think it’s really valuable just to have experiences which kind of shake you, where you say ‘whoa, I don’t understand why families operate like this, this is not how they operate in the United States,'” said Bergeson.

In Senegal, Bergeson and his adviser, Assistant Professor of History Jacqueline Woodfork, collaborated on a Perry Grant, working in the national archives in Dakar over the summer. Woodfork had nothing but kind things to say about Bergeson, especially regarding his potential.

“There are so many things that Seth could do, but I definitely think he will change people’s worlds. So if not the entire planet on that sort of global scale, he will change people’s worlds by interacting with them,” said Woodfork.

During his time abroad, he interned at a non-government organization which was situated in Dakar and dealt with refugees. His experiences on the ground have given him an empathetic perspective on human suffering and Bergeson really emphasizes actually meeting the problems of the world head on.

“I think you can’t really understand policy making . . . without working on the ground,” said Bergeson. “And I feel like you have some policy makers too who don’t really understand the reality of the situation on the ground.”