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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Essay: “Nepo baby” online discourse doesn’t end in Hollywood. It’s right here on campus

The New York Magazine sparked an online craze over “nepo babies” last month after publishing a front-page feature plastered with a baby-bodied illustration of celebrities like Ben Platt, Maude Apatow and Zoë Kravitz filling a hospital nursery.

The New York Magazine cover exposes 5’3″ models like Lily-Rose Depp who benefit from their parental ties despite their lack of industry credentials. But the nepo-baby conversation also affords GW a time of introspection – the University has its own class of underqualified students who somehow landed prestigious government internships by riding on their family’s coattails. So the next cover of The Cherry Tree ought to look something similar to that of the New York Magazine. I’m envisioning well-connected students with influential families holding congressional intern IDs and VIP cards on the hardbound cover, paying homage to the generational legacies weaving through our student culture.

Nepotism babies – dubbed “nepo babies” in the recent internet trend – are children of influential people who get ahead using their family’s connections, money or fame. The first widespread use of the catchy, shortened term started on TikTok and inspired other deep-dive videos on platforms like YouTube and Instagram. Viral videos revealed models, politicians and actors’ already well-established lineages within their respective industries for the world to see. Netizens debated whether the celebrities in question were actually good at their job or if their parents were master puppeteers.

I knew I had my work cut out for me as a first-generation university student when I enrolled at GW, but little did I know, I would be competing with GW’s nepotism babies for even entry-level internships. Everyone fantasizes about being famous and rich, but most people don’t have the parents or connections to achieve their wildest aspirations with just their last name. I grew up in Stafford, Virginia alongside the children of CEOs, international lawyers and heirs to multinational corporations. But the wealth in my hometown was nothing like the status I’ve come to witness during my first semester at GW. My high school classmates may have boats, but now my peers don’t hesitate to drop thousands of dollars on a flight to the Caribbean for just a weekend trip.

I’ve always been aware of the fact that GW students were among some of the wealthiest and most privileged students in academia, but I didn’t anticipate my classmates being part of the elite club of D.C. government socialites. Any major university has its celebrity kids, but GW is better known for those who skip airport security with their diplomatic passports. Some students I’ve met so far are the grandchildren of previous ambassadors, enigmatic international students and students who vaguely talk about their parents’ prestigious careers in government or business. As a GW student, it’s clear most of my peers have their opportunities handed to them educationally and financially. And they have a cushy, designer net to fall back on if they can’t make it without their family’s name in their back pockets.

GW’s history of nepotism babies dates back to the 1800s on the heels of the University’s founding in 1821. Dozens of influential people have attended GW, earning their degrees and eventually their jobs by way of their parents’ connections. Alumnus and Energy Minister of Pakistan Omar Ayub Khan is the grandson of Pakistan’s former President Muhammad Ayub Khan. Children of presidents Gerald Ford, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Dwight Eisenhower attended GW. Eisenhower’s grandson received his doctorate degree from GW Law in 1976 and also happens to be President Richard Nixon’s son-in-law.

Expansive alumni network aside, I didn’t come to GW to dine at Western Market with silver spoons. I came for the opportunities the University marketed for me – White House internships and classes with the most qualified professors in my field of study. As for my academic career, I’m set. My professional career, on the other hand, I worry about. I’ve had to deal with getting passed over for the more experienced, polished, well-connected candidate – spoiler alert: not every Elliott kid is destined to be a Hilltern. Trying to start a career in a generationally interwoven city has me chasing transient opportunities far out of reach.

My gratitude for the opportunities I’ve encountered outweighs my bitterness for feeling like the second choice as I’ve come to understand that oftentimes being passed over isn’t personal. I still feel lucky enough and motivated to be educated alongside some of the smartest and most hard-working people I’ve ever met, even if they have a giant yacht docked in Portofino and a trust fund locked up until they’re 25. They might have the leg up, but I landed my first official – albeit unpaid – internship this semester nevertheless. When I watch my friends be hired for prestigious paid internships on the Hill with Congresspeople and lobbyists alike, it still stings. As a first-generation student, I have to navigate the development of my career without the experiences of my parents and grandparents, but I’m grateful that I even have the opportunity to complain.

Nepotism babies’ trajectories may be forged in their private boarding schools, but it’s not their fault for being born with connections. When I retire from my career, I can only hope that my family and I have the connections that some of my peers were born with – and if I were in their position, I’d certainly take advantage of my resources. D.C.’s web is entangling, but I care more about how the nepotism babies of this generation apply their inherent education and power than any fame they achieve. Maybe they’ll decide to work for the common good – or maybe they’ll just waste away as a D-List socialite chasing their GW glory days.

Camellia Genovese, a freshman majoring in international relations, is an opinions writer.

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