We asked readers to tell us about the invite that changed their lives

In each issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine, we ask readers to respond to a common question. This time around, we asked about the invite that changed your life.

In July 2002, I was invited to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness meeting in Prague and then invited to dinner with a very senior researcher in optometry. That sequence of two invitations led to a focus in my research career that lasts until this day.

Kevin Frick, professor, Johns Hopkins Carey Business School

I was invited to serve as interim superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools after retiring from my role as deputy superintendent of the Howard County Public School System.

Mamie Johns Perkins, Ed '93 (MS)

An acquaintance from the Organization of American States messaged me in 2019 asking if I was interested in observing elections in Bolivia. Several weeks and a plane ride later, I bore witness to a spiral of events that brought Bolivia to the brink of civil war. As the sun set over the Bolivian plateau, preliminary electoral results showed that Evo Morales, the incumbent president seeking an unconstitutional fourth term in office, would almost certainly be forced into a runoff election that he was expected to lose. At around 7:40 p.m., when 83% of the votes had been counted, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal suddenly stopped releasing live results. Two hours later, the official projections had been revised to show the incumbent Morales with a double-digit lead over the opposition candidate.

Immediately, protesters filled the streets to rally against suspected electoral tampering. I was making my way back from a dinner break when an angry mob surrounded me and several other electoral observers, demanding that we denounce the president's apparent power grab. As the crowd cornered us, a group of pro-government supporters started to confront the anti-government protesters, allowing us to slip out of the ensuing street fight.

We sheltered in our hotel rooms and departed for the capital the next morning. Reports came in of violence erupting across the country and of mobs dragging disgraced public officials down the streets. As soon as the 80-member delegation of volunteer international election observers converged in the capital city, the leader of our electoral observation mission held a press conference announcing our concerns with the technical issues and statistical discrepancies between revised official results and our mission's internal electoral projections. The effect of the press conference was instant: Bolivian military leaders threatened to "defend the constitution" in an ominous threat to Evo Morales. National police warned our group that they were quickly losing control of the capital and would not be able to guarantee our safe passage to the airport for long. We dashed out in a police-escorted convoy and left a country on the cusp of civil war.

I returned to my D.C. SAIS bubble shaken to my core with a vastly greater appreciation of the need to safeguard democratic institutions at home and abroad.

Cody Etlin, SAIS '20 (MA)

Next up: Class of 1974, tell us your favorite memory from your time as a member of the first class of female undergraduates. Email your responses to editor Greg Rienzi.

Posted in Voices+Opinion