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  • Writer's pictureDavid Wolfe Bender

Another Year in Review: 2023, New Lessons


Me, talking to teams at the 2023 Speedway Signature Event

Latin is considered, by some, to be a dead language. To me, that is nothing short of ironic, considering how many Latin phrases from before the common era inspire many of the phrases most frequent in our vernacular today.


Fugit inreparabile tempus. Virgil wrote those words into Georgics, Book Three. It roughly translates to "Meanwhile time flies irretrievably." It is the basis for Shakespeare's "swiftest hours, observed as they flew," written into "A Lover's Complaint" in 1609. And that likely served as Albert Einstein's inspiration for his famous aphorism: "Time flies when you're having fun."


All of those people are incredibly intelligent, far more intelligent than I will ever be. Yet, none of them ever proved the counterfactual: that time moves slow when you are not having fun.


That anecdote really doesn't have a ton to do with this blog post; I found it interesting and wanted an excuse to tell that story. I suppose, however, that it does serve as a limited preview for this blog post. Because this year, I proved the counterfactual: 2023 moved very slowly.


Every year, I try to step back and reflect on the year we are all about to leave. Spotify wraps your year in music, TIME Magazine gives you a Person of the Year, and Google shows you what people searched in the last 12 months. I give you this blog post.


I call it the "Year in Review." It's my grotesque yet somewhat whimsical attempt to extract some small lesson or theme from the past year. I look through the year's big moments and indirectly answer some questions: how do I want to remember this year? What were this year's best moments?


I'll begin with what I'm sure is not a surprise to anyone: 2023 was a very difficult year. This year — which seriously refused to end — brought stress, disappointment, depression, and sadness.


A failed city council campaign. A long series of investigations. Legal fees. Endless calls and emails. A war in a country I love. Friends who needed to step into harm's way. It felt like it would never end. But the one thing that hurt above all else: the friends and allies who seemingly fell off the face of the earth as soon as it all started.


That manifests my theme in 2023.


The virtue of a friendship is not judged during the sunshine but rather during the thunderstorm. The true friends stay by your side; the disingenuous ones disappear.


I turned 21 years old this year, and I suppose I should've learned that in years prior. Clearly, I was asleep at the wheel. But trust me, I'm awake now. To all of those who were there for me this year, even in the worst of moments, I want to say: thank you.


Of course, not every moment of this year was bad; there were some amazing moments this year. In fact, days ago, I graduated with my bachelor's degree from Indiana University. More than 160 credits later, I graduated a semester early with honors and high distinction. My degree was a triple major in economics, political science, and journalism.


My point? It's not all sad. And as is true every year, the majority of this blog post is dedicated to that: this is the 2023 I wish to remember.


But before I start that, I want to write a small note about 2024 — about what's next. I spent a great deal of time trying to find a way to explain my headspace as I enter next year. I usually start writing this annual blog post during the first week of November, and I couldn't find these words until last week. It hit me while watching an episode of Billions, one of my favorite television programs.


In season four, one character comes under scrutiny from a medical board. Days removed from her hearing in front of that board, she comes to a realization. I've since come to the same realization.


"One thing that's come from this year: I know I can handle f***ing anything."


That's my attitude heading into 2024. As for now, I hope you enjoy my 2023 Year in Review. Happy New Year and Chag Urim Sameach.

 

January 2: Celebrating Peace in Israel and the United Arab Emirates

As part of the Geller International Fellowship, I traveled to Israel and the United Arab Emirates to meet Israelis and learn more about the Middle East. This was such an extraordinary opportunity. Forty students from across the country were selected to attend this fellowship, and it is a cohort program that renews year over year. I am so honored to have been selected for the inaugural class. Read more about it here.


As I often do when I travel, I took extensive notes. Each day, I posted a new update to my blog, trying to draw some takeaway from each day of the trip. You can read that here. You can also see some of my photos there.



February 17: AEI in Austin

For most of my undergraduate career, I've been involved with the American Enterprise Institute's academic programs. It's a great opportunity to meet with other like-valued students and discuss issues from across the political spectrum. The spring semester's conference was hosted in Austin, Texas, at the University of Texas.


As part of the conference's concluding address, we heard from Professor Kori Schake, a world-renowned scholar of American foreign and defense policy. Professor Schake never disappoints.


March 11: Turning 21

I turned 21 years old this year! I finally don't have to take sips from my mom's wine glass while she's looking away. I celebrated a few ways: I had my first drink with my best friend Kaelie Paugh in Indianapolis, and the night of March 11th, my family celebrated at Seasons 52, one of our favorite restaurants. I had a flight of three different wines from the Prisoner vineyard. Absolutely delicious. Highly recommend.


The next day, I went with Kaelie Paugh and Caroline Smith to Convivio, an extraordinary Italian restaurant. We all shared a bottle of a red wine from Tuscany.



March 18: The Cherry Blossoms!

On a trip back to my hometown of Washington DC, my friend Morgan Ames and I walked around the south part of the city to see the cherry blossom trees that first blossomed a few days prior. I was there for a Middle East policy conference.


Few things are more special than watching the cherry blossoms bloom each year.


March 25: The 2023 Indiana VEX Robotics State Championships

As part of my job with the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation — a Texas-based non-profit organization — I work with robotics teams and events throughout the state of Indiana. We culminate our season every year with a state championship, hosted at Lucas Oil Stadium, the same venue that has played host to Super Bowls and Final Four matchups.


It was also fun to be on the event staff as I watched my brother — then still a competitor — win the state title and qualify for the World Championships once again.


Over the course of the two-day event, I got to tour the Indianapolis Colts locker room and walk up to the cat walk above the field. I won't lie: I was terrified.


April 21: Little 500, Et Al.

One of the most recognizable Indiana University traditions is the Little 500, a competitive amateur bike race on campus. It has been called the world's greatest college weekend. I attended both the men's and women's races this year, and even better, my friend Rithwik Nichenametla (who graduated a semester prior) came back to campus for the race!


April 23: Lucas Zelnick

Lucas Zelnick is a comedian who popped up on my TikTok page in the middle of last year. He's a Jewish comedian based out of New York famous for crowd work. I thoroughly enjoy his comedy, particularly his Jewish humor, so my brother and I brought tickets when he announced a tour date in Indianapolis.


I picked a random shirt from my dresser that day — a red shirt with Hebrew lettering that spells "Indiana." Lucas Zelnick, notable Jew, apparently spotted that shirt in the crowd and started this hilarious conversation. It then garnered almost 100,000 views on TikTok. I hope you enjoy.


May 7: In My Taylor Swift Era

Who am I kidding? I've been in my Taylor Swift era for more than a decade. This day was probably my favorite day of the year! I was very lucky to get tickets to Taylor Swift's third Eras Tour show in Nashville, Tennessee. I got tickets at face value from the "last-chance" ticket lottery. It was my third Taylor Swift show.


It was the time of a life. I went with my friend Nidhi Krishnan, and we sang and danced all night long.


Funny story! You might remember that this show was famously delayed by rain and thunderstorms. In fact, Taylor Swift came onto the stage about when when she was originally scheduled to leave the stage. Still, even with the delays, it made for such an extraordinary night.


Sidenote: I recently made a change to my website that introduced a Taylor Swift-style Easter Egg. Search around on my homepage to see if you can find it!


There is really no performer like Taylor Swift. Full stop. You won't ever understand until you see it live in action. But when you do, you keenly notice how impressive the performance really is.



May 10: San Francisco

A few days after my return from Nashville, I traveled to San Francisco, California, to see my friend Zach Phelps, one of my best friends from high school and a student at Stanford. I sat in some of Zach's courses, but we also traveled around the Bay Area. It was great escape from life in Indiana after my Spring semester ended.


May 21: MJ Graduates

It wasn't immediately clear to me that I was getting older until my brother MJ walked across the stage at his Park Tudor School commencement ceremony. This was a special moment for our immediate family, as it was the only true commencement ceremony we've had, considering my normal ceremony was canceled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was thrilling to have both sides of our family come to Indianapolis to see MJ walk across that stage.


June 29: Welcome to New York (It's been waiting for you...)

For the second time in two years, our family traveled to New York City. As we made our way to The City That Never Sleeps, the thought was that we'd see a few Broadway shows here and there. By the end of the trip, we saw eight shows. We really couldn't hold back. Here are the shows we saw!

  • Some Like It Hot

  • Camelot (Written by Aaron Sorkin and featuring Hamilton star Phillipa Soo!)

  • &Juliet

  • Parade (Starring Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond!)

  • Funny Girl (with Lea Michele!)

  • Peter Pan Goes Wrong

  • Back to the Future

  • Sweeney Todd (with Josh Groban, Annaleigh Ashford, and Gaten Matarazzo!)


It was such an amazing trip. Going to Broadway shows with my family is a nostalgic experience. We used to go to shows as a family when I was younger, and we still love lining up outside the theatre with enough time to read the Playbill before the show starts.


Sidenote: my parents surprised my brother and me with tickets to Back to the Future, which opened just days prior to our arrival. What made it so special? When I was in fourth grade, I was part of the children's choir in my school's production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The performer who played Joseph was named Will Branner. Years later, he is now in the Broadway production of Back to the Future. It was so cool to see him on that stage, and I even got a picture with him after the show! (See below)


Another thing we did in New York: my dad and I are both big fans of the Showtime television show, Billions. It is set in New York City. The show — created by Brian Koppelman — is famous for filming in some of New York City's best restaurants. Some of them are well-kept secrets, while others are famous establishments you may have heard of. My dad and I intentionally tried to hit as many of the restaurants as we could. Take a look at some of our favorites:

  • Peter Luger Steak House: across the river in Brooklyn, this steakhouse presents a special vibe. It's a favorite pick of one of the protagonists in the show. Multiple scenes from Billions are filmed here. We even sat in the same part of the restaurant where a recent episode was filmed.

  • Vaselka: this Ukrainian restaurant in the East Village existed when my grandmother lived in New York City. Today, it has some of the best potato latkes I've tasted (aside from my father's). It was also my first egg cream. Vaselka will be on the top of my list each time I go back to NYC.

  • Kossar's Bagels and Bialys: there is absolutely nothing like a New York-style bagel. Kossar's made an appearance in Billions, but it stands up on its own. Great breakfast sandwiches and extraordinary bagels.

  • The Peking Duck House: my family's experience with Peking duck only rests with the Peking Gourmet Inn, a famous Peking duck restaurant in northern Virginia. The Peking Duck House — called one of New York's best Chinese restaurants — presents a different way of preparing the duck. We aren't sure it outdid the Peking Gourmet Inn, but it was still delicious.





July 18: Belated Birthday in Las Vegas

I went with a bunch of friends to Las Vegas as a celebration for my 21st Birthday. It was an extraordinary time, and I want to thank Sheldon, Suzanne, and Zach Phelps for putting this together. It was beyond fun.


Forget that famous aphorism! Here is what happened in Vegas:

  • Blue Man Group

  • Penn and Teller

  • "O" Cirque du Soleil

  • A bunch of walking around the Strip (in 100+ degree weather, might I add)

  • Escape rooms

  • Blackjack (let's not discuss my winnings...or losings, in this case)

  • Speakeasies (this, for what it's worth, is what developed my newly found love for speakeasies!)


We also went to the Golden Steer Steakhouse; the food was exceptional.


Me, with my grandmother and my dad at Nationals Park in Washington DC

July 26: Washington DC

My dad and I returned to my hometown in Northern Virginia to spend time with my grandmother in Maryland. While there, we all visited Nationals Park to see the Washington Nationals — my favorite baseball team — play against the Colorado Rockies. The Nationals won in an inspiring comeback victory, and we had a great time.


August 7: Wait, DC again?

This was a quick turnaround. Washington DC, then back to Indianapolis, then back to DC. This time, I was in attendance for the Israel on Campus Coalition's National Leadership Summit. It was a great opportunity to see some of my friends from my cohort of the Geller International Fellowship earlier in the year. We also heard from some great speakers about Middle East policy.


Me, in front of Wylie Hall on the First Day of Classes in August

August 21: First Day of Sixteenth Grade

My last first day of classes while an undergraduate student at Indiana University! I took 18 credits this semester, packed with courses across all my majors. Take a look at some of the classes I took this semester by visiting my coursework page.


August 22: Jonas Brothers

Nidhi Krishnan and I must really enjoy going to concerts together! We saw the Jonas Brothers in concert in Indianapolis. Somewhere, there is a video of me jumping around to Year 3000, my favorite Jonas Brothers song. I hope you'll never see that video: it's incredibly embarrassing.


September 21: Yep, another DC trip.

I traveled with a few other students at Indiana University for a policy conference in Washington DC. Before the conference started, I went to the Kennedy Center to see a performance of Moulin Rouge! It was my first time at the Kennedy Center since I was six years old and saw The Lion King. This theatre is where I fell in love with musicals. It was a thrill to be back at such a beautiful venue.


I also walked around the monuments, as I try to do once each year. I stood on the spot where — fun fact — my parents got engaged.



October 22: Las Vegas Part II

In what was a last-second decision, I traveled to Las Vegas again with some friends. We explored some great restaurants and speakeasies, and we also saw the Hoover Dam!





October 24: The Racing Capital of the World

For the last few years, I've served as Tournament Director of the Speedway Signature Event, a large-scale robotics competition for middle school and high school students from across the United States and Canada. This year, as part of our pre-event activities, I went to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to record some promotional material. This was incredibly cool: I walked on the finish line and interviewed race technicians in front of Indy Cars.


The videos we made debuted at the event a few weeks later.





November 16: The Fourth Running of the Speedway Signature Event

The week of the 2023 Speedway Signature Event was packed to the brim. Forced to balance the event's preparation and school, I averaged about 2.5 hours of sleep each night during event week.


This year's running of the event was truly special. We ramped up our production to a whole new level, incorporating more videos and promotional material than ever before. My favorite moment came before our Finals, where I introduced each of the four teams competing for two spots to the 2024 VEX Robotics World Championships. You can listen to the introductions below.




Me, with my brother at Capital One Arena

November 22: Rocking the Red

While in Washington DC for Thanksgiving Break, my brother and I went to a Washington Capitals game. When we lived in Washington, we went to Caps games with some frequency. Now, since we only go to one game every few seasons, they are truly special. The Caps won in overtime.


We got last-minute student rush tickets, seated in the back row of the stadium. I still thought our seats were great. There really doesn't seem like a bad seat in the venue.


December 17: Skiing in Tahoe

My friends Zach Phelps, Cristian Tavarez, and Katarina Juliet traveled to Northstar Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe. This is the second installment of what we hope to be an annual tradition. We had a great time. Of course, this meant the return of my all-pink ski suit — from head to toe.



So, What's Next?

I have moved out of Bloomington, so I am back in Indianapolis for a while. I am focused on applying to full-time jobs. Meanwhile, I am continuing with my education, completing graduate-level coursework in data science and statistical analysis. I also have a series of applications in the hopper for graduate school, so I hope to have some more news to share soon. Stay tuned.


And with that, I hope we all have a great 2024. I'm sure it will be a quiet year in our country, right? It's not like there's a presidential election or anything. Regardless of what kind of year it will be, I'll see you on the other side.


The Year in Photos



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