Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Remembering my turn at in that classic role: summer intern

I’m looking forward to lunch later this week with Share Our Strength's amazing interns. I came to Washington more than 30 years ago as a summer intern for a nonprofit (The National Wildlife Federation) and I’ve never forgot what a formative experience it could be. Our happy band of interns worked long hours, felt underpaid and under-appreciated, were convinced that we knew more than some of those of the staff to whom we reported, (I hope this doesn’t sound too familiar to our interns!) and literally could not imagine how the organization would survive without us. Nevertheless we savored every moment, somehow intuiting that notwithstanding each morning’s Washington Post headline about some clash between political titans, it was actually the countless small and invisible acts of the rest of us that set the stage for genuine progress.

My job at the National Wildlife Federation was to cover Congressional hearings on environmental and energy matters, write reports for their newsletter (there was no internet or web) and attend meetings with my boss about advocacy strategies. My boss was named was not as old as I am right now, but he seemed old enough to be stuffed and on display at the Smithsonian to my young eyes. In the absence of any specific guidance I assumed that my job was to gently elbow him awake in all of the meetings at which he fell asleep. But then I realized this only made him grumpy for the rest of the day, and my role evolved into one of distracting the other people at the meeting from realizing that the boss was asleep.

Meanwhile I was meeting other interns and staff, getting a sense of just how many complex and fascinating public policy issues there were on which to work, and finding myself inspired every time I drove by the White House or the Capitol, or jogged past (yes, I once jogged) the Lincoln Memorial.

The most important thing I learned was that I wanted to come back to Washington to find a job right after I graduated from college at the University of Pennsylvania, and that was what I did, literally the day after commencement. I’ve been here ever since. Along the way I had a second tour as an intern, in the office of Colorado Senator Gary Hart. I’d met Hart’s legislative director through someone that had been at the National Wildlife Federation. And that led to 13 years on Capitol Hill, to presidential politics, and to the founding of Share Our Strength and Community Wealth Ventures.

I’m sure you’ll Share Our Strength's interns will have their own story to look back on years from now and I hope that their time at Share Our Strength plays some part in that emerging narrative. Thanks to each of them for choosing to be here, and for all they’ve done to advance our No Kid Hungry strategy. At the National Wildlife Federation we fantasized that we’d played a huge role in the organization’s success. I’m certain that they have in ours.

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