Randy Paris, a junior political science major and religion minor, from Pittsburgh, Pa., spent the fall semester working at the White House through The White House Internship Program and gained a unique perspective into the daily workings of the Obama administration.
How did you land an internship at the White House?
When they announced the White House Internship Program, I decided that I was going to apply every term until they let me in. I was elated to get the opportunity to intern this fall. I imagine the diversity of my previous work experience — from criminal defense law in Pittsburgh to community organizing in rural North Carolina — helped me earn the position.
Who did you work for and what did you do?
I worked for two people. Valerie Jarrett is the Senior Advisor to the President and Michael Strautmanis is the Chief of Staff for the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. My daily duties consisted of preparing daily schedules, compiling press clips, organizing correspondence, and tracking event requests. I also helped with events, research projects, and assisted other staffers with various high-need projects.
What was it like to meet President Obama?
The only thought running through my head when I met President Obama was a sense of utter shock that the President of the United States just acknowledged my existence. I remember hoping that I would recall every detail of that moment for as long as humanly possible.
What was the biggest issue while you were there?
Unsurprisingly, health reform. The more I learn about it, the more I am convinced that the decision not to reform our health-care system is a decision this country can’t afford to make. I’m extremely proud of the fact that President Obama has come closer than any President in history to delivering on legislation that FDR famously considered too difficult to take up.
What was one of your most interesting experiences?
The internship was an opportunity to pull back the curtain on topics I spend so much time studying at Wake Forest. Specifically, during one of the first weeks I was there, interns listened to the three people most involved in the confirmation of Justice Sotomayor. It was a fascinating experience, especially since I had just completed a law class that spent a significant amount of time looking at the Supreme Court confirmation process.
What was the most surprising thing about the White House?
It’s really remarkable to see that this monument, museum and American icon, is actually a daily office place for White House staff, not to mention the home of the First Family. It’s a little strange to see Bo, who is the most well-groomed dog you’ll ever encounter, running through the hallways, but things like that remind you where you work and how special it is.
You must have gained an incredible sense of history?
Every so often I’d have a pinch-me-moment where it just sort of hit me that I was working at the White House. I remember looking down the south colonnade that connects the Oval Office to the residence and thinking, I’m standing in the exact place where President Kennedy stood as he contemplated staring down the barrel at nuclear war. It’s those moments where I had an overwhelming sense that I was participating, if only in the smallest way, in the continuation of this astonishing, incredible story of America.
Would you like to return to Washington after graduating?
Watching President Obama closely over the last four months deepened my sense that we are witnessing one of the great leaders in American history. It would be a remarkable privilege, and it is my plan, to continue to help, in any capacity that I can, as the President carries on the fight to build a more just, prosperous and internationally esteemed nation. It’s definitely a unique time to get involved in the work of our government, and I look forward to continued participation after graduating.
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