Journey to Jessup

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(Photo Courtesy: SAIS Observer)


“So why should we take the government official’s statement as evidence, considering it is a well-known fact that politicians have diarrhea of the mouth and constipation of the brain?” Thus inquired the incredulous judge, his fingers steepled as the female judges flanking him hid small smiles. Much of the room did the same. Kay, an experienced journalist and Korean Graduate Certificate Student at the Hopkins Nanjing Center, had practised a plethora of questions and scenarios over the last three months while preparing for the prestigious Jessup international rounds in Washington, D.C. This, however, was not one of them.

In fact, Kay and our other three teammates on HNC’s Jessup team had devoted not only much of the semester, but also the winter break to prepare for China’s national rounds of the competition. While many of our classmates spent Chinese New Year with family or on exotic adventures across Asia, our team’s oralists dedicated their vacation to venturing through thousands of pages of international law texts, treaties and articles. The days were spent researching and the nights were devoted to three-hour long rehearsals.

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(Photo Courtesy: SAIS Observer)

While exhaustion was a near-constant companion, so too was a growing addiction: tihu guan ding, or as our teammates, Chen Yi and Shi Mengjie, translated: the feeling of exhilaration that comes from sudden enlightenment. Over the months, uncovering the perfect case or article in a treaty became both tribulation and triumph.  After winning the national rounds in China in February, becoming not only the sole all-female team to do so, but also the highest-ranking team in the history of HNC’s Jessup program and the only non-law school from China to make it to the international rounds, “tihu guan ding” became our mantra. The addiction fueled our shared passion and purpose.

Unexpectedly, the passion spread like wildfire from our team to the entire Hopkins Community. Encouragement flowed from our teachers, classmates and alumni not only in Mainland China, but also across the northeast of the United States. Alumni from all walks of life, lawyers in Shanghai, consultants in D.C. and Chinese constitutional law professors in New Jersey, reached out to send their congratulations, express their support and offer post-competition career advice.

Their support gave us the strength to continue, as each round of the competition proved more challenging than the last. The pointed questions from the judges were merciless, testing both our knowledge of law and understanding of the complex issues posed by the problem. In four 90-minute rounds, our team argued the most nebulous issues in international law, ranging from attribution in cyber attacks to the legality of mass surveillance programs. Months of preparation and practice culminated in the final round as the audience, including several alumni and HNC admissions staff, sat with bated breath while awaiting Kay’s response. It would determine the result of the round and whether we would move on to the finals. With a confident smile, Kay replied to the judge’s question with poise: pointing out that the mental constipation of the politician was not the issue at hand, and citing case law to support her argument. The bailiff stood. Time was up.

Although we didn’t win the championship, we won that round and ultimately ranked in the top third of the competition. Our addiction had been vindicated and we celebrated that evening over dinner and Doritos with alumni, professors and admissions staff. We celebrated not because the journey to Jessup had come to an end, but because of the pure potential we felt before us and the incredible network of support that we knew was behind us.

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