You want to know who I am? Watch Parks and Recreation. There is so very much of me that is Leslie Knope. So much so, in fact, that my challenge today is to keep things somewhat concise. I’m the first to admit that the first season, just six episodes long, was a bit uneven. In the 2011 PaleyFest interview, the moderator noted that the, “show lampoons small town America while showing great affection for it”, and Amy Poehler describes her character as “part girl scout, part pioneer. She’s got a very suffragette spirit, I think, but zero game.”
True. But it grew beyond that, and so did Leslie Knope. She begins as a civil servant in the Parks Department of Pawnee, Indiana. Her goal: fill in a pit. Build a park.
“It is my dream to build a park… that I one day visit with my White House staff on my birthday. And they say President Knope, this park is awesome. Now we understand why you’re the first female president of the United States.”
She finds the bright side of town hall meetings.
She’s endlessly optimistic, but she’s constantly plagued by doubt. She’s sunny, but thinks she’s also cool (note: she’s not). Leslie and I share fashion sense (and comfortableness with dating).
Leslie Knope is an amazing friend. If you have her in your corner, you have a champion. Female friends in particular can benefit from her devotion to Galentine’s Day. What’s that, you might ask?
The day where you celebrate your girl friends however you see fit (a bouquet of hand crocheted flower pens, a mosaic portrait made from the crushed bottles of their favorite diet sodas, and a personalized 5,000-word essay of why they are all so awesome is nice).
Leslie can let her passions get the better of her. She can be a complete steamroller.
Competition can get ugly.
She doesn’t grasp how everyone else doesn’t see the obvious choice.
But she’s super chill.
And she has the council of a wise mentor/ dear friend/ workplace proximity associate.
She loves waffles.
She loves Lil’ Sebastian.
She loves her crew.
She loooooves Joe Biden.
Even more, she loves Ben Wyatt.
Her friends love her.
“Ann: Listen, I know she can be strong-willed and difficult, ok. She once made me eat an entire cheesecake at a potluck so she didn’t look bad. But I really think she is ready to listen.
Ben: You ate an entire cheesecake? Why didn’t you just throw it away?
Ann: Because with everything she’s done for me I would eat ten cheesecakes for her. Also because it was delicious and amazing, like everything she does.”
And she loves her friends.
Anyone who knows me has encountered this:
She can be a bit excitable.
Mention cake at your peril.
Her speech announcing her run for city council is glorious perfection.
Her final comments during that run’s debate make me want to stand up and applaud, every time.
As the series progresses, Leslie moves beyond small town service for much greater scope. She serves the National Parks service, and later the governorship of Indiana, and later still… it’s possible she heard the words, “President Knope, this park is awesome.”
What never diminishes is her passion, her joy, and her belief in those around her. The series finale leaps ahead in time to Leslie’s final term as Governor of Indiana, where she delivers this speech.
“When we worked here together, we fought, scratched, and clawed to make people’s lives a tiny bit better. That’s what public service is all about: small, incremental change every day. Teddy Roosevelt once said ‘Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is a chance to work hard at work worth doing.’ And I would add that what makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people that you love. I started my career more than thirty years ago in the Parks and Recreation department right here in Pawnee, Indiana. I had a lot of different jobs, including two terms as your governor. And soon, a new, unknown challenge awaits me which to me, even now, is thrilling because I love the work. Not to say that public service isn’t sexy because it definitely is, but that’s not why we do it. We do it because we get the chance to work hard at work worth doing, alongside a team of people who we love. So I thank those people who walked with me and I thank you for this honor. Now, go find your team and get to work.“
Leslie is brilliant, awkward, passionate, sweet, tough, selfless, determined, nerdy, kind. There is a goodly part of me that is already her, but so much that still aspires. Not a bad path to find myself upon.