The USSYP Ambassador Lunch: A Diplomat’s Perspective

USSYP 2016

German Ambassador to the United States Peter Wittig, keynote speaker at the most recent United States Senate Youth Program Ambassador luncheon, has been playing a key role amid significant political upheaval since his March 2016 speech.

The early summer vote in the United Kingdom to separate from the European Union has changed the political landscape, and Ambassador Wittig has become a calming voice highlighting the necessity of international collaboration to tackle global issues such as trade, fiscal policy and the refugee crisis. His Washington Post Global Opinion column on the issue was published on September 14. He affirmed that “Germany Stands By Its Commitment In The Refugee Crisis,” in Huffington Post days later on September 17.

Ambassador Wittig addressed the 2016 USSYP class at the historic Anderson House, home to America’s Society of the Cincinnati. The richly decorated interior and the grand staircase showcasing 14th century Venice in José Villegas Cordero’s The Triumph of the Dogaressa created an unforgettable tableau for an afternoon focused on international diplomacy.

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Ambassador Wittig shared experiences from more than three decades of foreign service as he addressed the attentive audience before him. He reflected on his early career, describing long meetings and late nights at the United Nations, saying that it was “Particularly rewarding to serve your country in those posts, shaping solutions to problems.” He characterized the German – American relationship as a “transatlantic engine,” noting that cooperation between the two nations is strong and multifaceted. He again championed this cooperation, in the realm of intelligence sharing, in a May 2016 article by intelligence expert David Ignatius.

One hundred and four high school student delegates - two from each state, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity - take part in the 54th annual United States Senate Youth Program held in Washington, DC on March 5-12, 2016. (© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin).

Ambassador Wittig described several shared challenges facing Germany and the U.S.,including transitioning to clean energy to alleviate climate change, incorporating immigrant and refugee populations into a diverse society, guarding against the rise of terrorism, and maintaining strong economies both at home and globally. Using the current migrant crisis as an example, he stated, “Only a joint approach will solve this crisis, a joint approach that addresses the root causes of the refugee influx, especially the war in Syria, the instability in the Middle East and other regions, improving the situation in refugee camps and supporting the transit countries in the region.”

His audience of high school juniors and seniors seized the opportunity to ask a first question about college affordability, comparing the differing systems in America and Germany. With a knowing nod, the ambassador responded. His own son, a high school senior, had been in the midst of the college application process, and he readily acknowledged the excellence of American higher education.

One hundred and four high school student delegates - two from each state, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity - take part in the 54th annual United States Senate Youth Program held in Washington, DC on March 5-12, 2016. (© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin).

The USSYP annual Ambassador luncheon always highlights our global interconnectedness, and reveals a literal world of public service career opportunities. Ambassador Wittig’s closing words reminded his listeners that they are all ambassadors; that international partnership depends on “Thousands of people-to-people contacts and relationships, from students, to scholars and scientists, to cultural and social figures, to business and political leaders —  and these ties especially depend on you and how you and other young people fill them with life.”

One hundred and four high school student delegates - two from each state, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity - take part in the 54th annual United States Senate Youth Program held in Washington, DC on March 5-12, 2016. (© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin).

 

USSYP 2016

© Photos by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

The Alumni Insider’s View on Making the Most of a Congressional Office Internship

The U.S. Senate Youth Program encourages motivated and high-achieving young leaders to be directly involved in our participatory democracy. Countless delegates leave Washington Week wanting to get a deeper view into the workings of the legislative branch – either by returning to D.C. or working in their senator’s or representative’s state offices. We caught up with a few recent USSYP alumni who interned on Capitol Hill following their Washington Week experiences. Read on to get tips on how to find an internship and what life is like once you do!  

Many thanks to:

Ethan Cartwright (MS – 2013), intern for Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS)

Monica Marciano (VA –  2016), intern for Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA)

Maria Mendoza (NJ – 2015), intern for Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ)

Samuel Miller (KY – 2015), intern for Congressman John Yarmuth (D-KY-3rd District)

How did you secure your internship?   

Maria: I applied to be an intern in Senator Cory Booker’s New Jersey office for the summer following freshman year. I began the process through his website with an application that included personal information, a writing sample, a brief essay, a copy of my resume, and references. The process wasn’t too arduous, and the senator’s staff was incredibly helpful whenever I called in for a clarification. A few weeks later, I was interviewed by the staff and later notified that I received the internship. A major concern of mine was funding, particularly because my university requires a student contribution for tuition regardless of aid status. I was able to find a stipend opportunity at my university’s Institute of Politics and get the matter sorted before starting my internship. I highly recommend potential public service interns look into similar opportunities at their respective campuses!

miller-interns-blog-iiSamuel: I was interested in interning during the summer following my freshman year. The application process involved contacting my Congressman John Yarmuth’s office for the required forms, sending in a resume and cover letter, and conducting a phone interview with the one of the congressman’s staff members. Efforts to reach out are important, but I tried to strike a balance between showing interest and overloading the office with emails. For me, it took four months from first contacting the office in November to receiving a decision in February. Even after I was accepted, I made sure to respond promptly to any inquiries from the office leading up to the start date. For the interview, I tried to predict the questions in advance so that I would be better prepared. During the interview, I highlighted why my district was special to me, my past experience with leadership positions, and why public service motivates me.

What was a typical day like for you?      

Ethan: Serving as an intern for Senator Wicker during my spring semester of junior year, I had a wide range of responsibilities. As the intern assigned to the senator’s executive assistant and scheduler, my typical responsibilities consisted of assisting in fielding meeting requests from constituents and lobbyists, arranging the senator’s calendar, booking (and often troubleshooting) his travel and maintaining his records. However, no two days on the job were ever alike. Since the senator’s time is a premium commodity, scheduling staff must always remain flexible and should learn to expect that things will not go according to plan!

Maria: I was based in Senator Booker’s New Jersey office working within the constituency. My responsibilities included three key types of work: (1) organizing the “clips”, or newspaper clips pertaining to the senator’s activities or major policy matters in the state for the staff’s viewing every day, (2) inputting constituent inquiries into the senator’s constituent services database, and (3) writing memos and other types of briefs for key issue areas. Although the clips were just completed first thing in the morning every day, the other tasks would just be given based on when staff members needed assistance. Interns would also have rotating shifts answering calls at the front desk, which I was assigned to twice a week. Additionally, I got to attend multiple events as part of the senator’s office, such as press conferences with the senator on topics such as the Transportation Security Administration and gun control, a Hillary Clinton rally and visits to the New Jersey State House and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

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Monica: As a summer intern for Senator Kaine, I attended committee hearings and meetings with constituents, and I assisted staff members with special projects and press clips. In addition, I was responsible for recording voice mails from constituents, giving tours of the Capitol, and delivering correspondence between offices. Occasionally we had the opportunity to have lunch with Senator Kaine, Chief of Staff Mike Henry and other staff members.

Did you have the opportunity to spend much time with the senator? In what capacity?               

Ethan: As an intern for the executive assistant, I interacted with Senator Wicker on a daily basis. This often involved providing him advance information before meetings and appearances and even driving him to certain engagements. What surprised me most about Senator Wicker’s office was how interested the senator was in his staff. Senator and Mrs. Wicker took personal interest in the well-being of staffers and interns.

Maria: I definitely spent more time with Senator Booker than I was expecting, particularly because I was interning in my state and not in D.C. However, he kept a strong presence in New Jersey throughout the summer and I spoke to him several times at his events and at the office. The senator is incredibly down-to-earth and makes the effort to get to know his interns. Unfortunately, I was traveling and could not attend, but at the end of the summer, the senator hosted a movie night with all of his summer interns to get to know them better and treat them to a meal. All of my experiences reflected his genuine interest in our success.

What advice would you give to others on how to have a successful experience as an intern?

Maria: I would advise others to act as if every day on the job is another interview, and to bring the same energy and enthusiasm to all assignments. Oftentimes, interns aren’t given the most interesting work. Many don’t think of their ideal job entailing receptionist work or the organization of filing cabinets, but the fact of the matter is that if it has been assigned to you, it will probably make someone else’s day a bit easier, and that person won’t forget it. Once you make that kind of impression, you start being entrusted to do the work that you really want to.

marciano-internsMonica: Take advantage of all the resources that are available to you. When else will you be able to roam the halls of the Capitol, talk to specialists in five different policy areas, and attend a speaker series with politicians all in one day? During the Congressional breaks (when the Senate was in recess), I had the unique opportunity to get lunch with several staff members, who gave me advice on everything from law school to networking. I also made sure to attend as many committee meetings as I possibly could, and I believe that these briefings have given me a deeper understanding of issues Congress is working on, including combatting the Zika virus and the implementation of the Every Child Achieves Act. I would also recommend using your fellow interns as resources. As one of the youngest interns in the office, I was able to learn so much from the older students about college, the job search process, and politics.

Samuel: Take advantage of your time in D.C. and on Capitol Hill to create a network. Most people in D.C. are very ambitious and have high expectations for themselves, and you should embrace the opportunity to connect and share your own goals. Don’t be shy, especially within the first couple of weeks. Make friends with the other interns and staffers in your office, but stop and say hi to those in nearby offices as well. Keep in touch with interns you meet at intern lecture series events. Make a D.C. bucket list with your friends of things to do. There are so many free activities and museums to check out in D.C. For instance, your intern ID card gets you into the Library of Congress main reading room, which is the most beautiful room I have ever experienced. When speaking on the phone with constituents, be kind and considerate. Many of those who call are not in the best mood, but they just want to have someone who will listen to their concerns and opinions.

Was there a particular event or moment during your summer that stands out as a highlight?

Ethan: One of my favorite memories was when USSYP Program Director Rayne Guilford came to the office to talk with the staff about the possibility of Senator Wicker serving as a Co-Chair for the 2017 United States Senate Youth Program. I was invited to join the meeting and provide a former participant’s perspective on how beneficial the program is to young people. It was awesome when Senator Wicker agreed to be a Co-Chair!  

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Monica: One of my duties as an intern for Senator Kaine was to help the press assistant record articles about Senator Kaine’s vetting process for the vice presidential nomination. As media outlets began to capitalize on speculation surrounding Secretary Clinton’s decision, every day I would receive an increasing number of press clips to record, with titles like “Will Tim Kaine Be Clinton’s VP?” or “Ten Things You Need to Know about Tim Kaine.” I noticed the mounting anticipation not only in the number of articles that came pouring into my inbox, but also in the buzz that enlivened Russell 231. In between the meetings with constituents, the letter writing, the committee hearings, everyone was wondering: would Senator Kaine be the nominee? On Friday, July 22nd, we finally received the answer we had been hoping for. Glued to the TV screen, I watched as this very surreal story began to unfold.

Samuel: It was very difficult to come to work after the Orlando shootings took place in mid-June. I felt sick that tragedy like this was the new normal and I didn’t want to sit idly by without something getting done. It turns out that I didn’t have to wait very long. Several Democratic House members – including my Congressman John Yarmuth – organized the sit-ins for gun control legislation soon after the shootings occurred. While my congressman and others were fighting on the House floor, I was in the office answering phone call after phone call. Whether they called in support or opposition, I was just excited that people cared strongly and wanted to respond. So many people disapprove of government and Congress in particular, but we can’t let this lead to indifference. We need to encourage people to be engaged in the political process. The other interns and I chose to stay late on some days so that we could continue taking calls. I could tell we were part of something historic.

What advice would you give to other students about getting an internship on Capitol Hill?

Ethan: Most Congressional offices want interns who are willing to learn and understand that all functions in the office are valuable. Highlighting previous experience you have working as part of a team and contributing to a goal, even if you weren’t the one taking the lead, is a great addition to your application!

Monica: Don’t be afraid to network! The Hill is all about building personal relationships. Getting a recommendation from someone with a connection in the senator’s office could mean your resume gets pulled from the bottom of the pile. Also make sure to keep in touch with the office after your internship. Many of Senator Kaine’s legislative assistants and staffers were once interns, and they were able to get jobs by updating the office regularly.

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Samuel: Before sending in your resume, make sure it is updated and read through it for spelling and grammar. Let someone with fresh eyes read through it as well. When considering which office to apply to, it definitely helps to be from that person’s district or state. If you are intent on avoiding your district or state, it is especially important to have an answer to why the district or state of your new selection is special to you. I would also recommend looking at internships with committees. As a candidate, you should prepare for interview questions about your strengths and weaknesses, what public service means to you, what you would like to get out of the internship, why the congressperson’s district or state is special to you, and what political issues you are passionate about. It may sound odd, but I recommend smiling through the phone interview because it makes you sound happier and more passionate (don’t do this for in-person interviews as it will look very weird). What makes Capitol Hill internship interviews special is that talking politics is fair game. I suggest being frank while at the same time considering the valid arguments and counterarguments. To secure the internship, you do not necessarily have to agree with your congressman or congresswoman, but it is important to know where he or she stands and the work he or she has already done. Do your research on the congressperson’s website. And remember to always ask at least one question of the interviewer.

 

Photos courtesy of Monica Marciano and Sam Miller

Anderson House and the Society of the Cincinnati

Anderson House and the Society of the Cincinnati Executive Director Jack Warren

Executive Director of the Society of the Cincinnati Jack Warren with 2016 DC Delegates Brian Contreras and Max Finkelpearl

The 2016 United States Senate Youth delegates had a unique opportunity to visit a lavish and historic D.C. mansion that is home to the Society of the Cincinnati, and to hear from one of the nation’s renowned scholars of the Revolutionary War era.

Welcoming the group to the magnificent Anderson House was historian Jack Warren, the executive director of the Society of the Cincinnati, the nation’s oldest patriotic organization.  Founded in 1783 by officers of the Continental Army and their French counterparts who served together in the American Revolution, the Society of the Cincinnati’s mission is to promote knowledge and appreciation of the achievement of American independence.

Mr. Warren brought to life those who ushered in a new form of government to the world stage, forever changing society. “The world that we live in began then,” Mr. Warren said, “when people stood up and said ‘We are going to create a nation for the first time in human history, for the very first time, a nation whose purpose is to promote the interests and defend the liberties of ordinary people.’”

One of Mr. Warren’s professional passions is to connect modern Americans to the human side of our nation’s Founding Fathers. In a speech he delivered at George Washington’s Mount Vernon home, Mr. Warren said, “We talk about our revolution more than any other people in the world talk about their revolution, if they have had one. But, we tend to focus on the philosophy and rationale behind it rather than the battles and the men who commanded those battles. We tend to lose sight of the fact that the Revolutionary War was made up of people who were prepared to give their lives for the cause. And, many of them did,” he added.

“No American war since has produced such a diverse group of general officers,” he continued.  “Our Revolutionary War, in many ways, is a great romantic drama where the soldiers’ lives are reflected through their deeds. Many of Washington’s generals had far more military experience than he did. And, in some cases, at the beginning, they resented him being Commander-in-Chief. Washington’s strength and brilliance was that he learned from his mistakes and he built a hard core of leaders around him that he trusted. By the end of the war, in his farewell address, he referred to them as his Band of Brothers.”

USSYP 2016

USSYP delegate Katherine Krolicki (NV – 2016) described her emotions from the Anderson House event in her reflection essay.  “When Mr. Warren began his speech I was immediately captivated,” she wrote. “This man had a true love for service and his country. I was inspired by his words, and he even made me cry at some points during his speech. He reminded all of us that we need to be thankful to the Founding Fathers for what they have done for us, our country, and even the world.”

Delegate Brooke Hanes (IN – 2016) commented on the depth of information and spirit Mr. Warren conveyed. “Mr. Warren is likely the most patriotic individual I have ever met. I loved hearing from the perspective of someone who loves the United States and all that our country has done for the world, but also acknowledges our past mistakes. Mr. Warren stated something along the lines of, “The Founders and Framers were not perfect, but freedom and liberty had to start somewhere.”

A highlight of the afternoon was the opportunity to view some of the spectacular artifacts from the birth of our nation. The symbol of the eagle, an emblem of freedom, has special significance to the Society of the Cincinnati, and there are more than 30 historically important eagle images at Anderson House. Mr. Warren held aloft what he characterized as the crown jewel of the United States, a diamond eagle medal that George Washington’s brothers in arms in the American Revolution presented him in recognition of his service on the field of battle.

 

Tracing a direct line from our first president to the mission of the USSYP, Mr. Warren recalled a 1789 speech by George Washington; quoting, “It should be the highest ambition of every American to set aside his private interests and recognize that the choices that he makes will have consequences, not just for himself but for generations and generations.”

USSYP 2016

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All photos by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

 

Senate Co-Chairs Share Advice and Wisdom

As summer comes to a close, we know that many students have headed off to college or are starting that all-important senior year of high school.  Some of you may even be applying to the USSYP right now!  If you are looking for advice and counsel on finding success in school, career and life, we offer some excerpts from the keynote addresses given by our Senate Co-Chairs over the years.  Each year two senators, one from each party, serve as the USSYP Senate Co-Chairs and each give the students an evening of their time, providing a keynote address and a lengthy Q & A session.  Let’s start with our 2015 and 2014 Co-Chairs and stay tuned for more to come!

(All photos by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin)  

© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

 2015 Democratic Co-Chair Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV)

  • No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
  • What you can’t recover from is thinking, “I could have done it, and I didn’t. I didn’t try. I was afraid to step out and take that risk.” That’s the one you can’t live with, because that will haunt you. That keeps you up at night sometimes, thinking, “I could’ve made a difference.  I really could have.” We all have those moments in life. 
  • Take care of others. As my grandfather used to say, “Leave a little meat on the bone for the next dog.”
  • You have to take care of yourself. Keep yourself strong—mentally, physically, and financially – do the best that you can.

Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, the Senate Youth Program’s 2015 Democratic Co-Chair, has been the center of much legislative activity since the evening he spent with the USSYP delegates. He has strengthened his reputation as a consensus builder willing to work across party lines on common sense solutions. He has lead bipartisan efforts on gun control, and taken to the Senate Floor to raise awareness of the prescription opioid and heroin abuse epidemic.

During his keynote evening, looking out on a sea of young faces, Senator Manchin reflected on his own childhood. “My grandfather told me to keep myself strong mentally, physically and financially if I ever wanted to be able to help anyone else, and I learned the meaning of real service to others from my grandmother, Mama Kay.” It was his grandmother who, in providing a safe haven, work and meals for those in need, showed her young grandson a template for government to serve as a helping hand. She also told him these indelible words:  “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

One hundred and four high school student delegates - two from each state, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity - take part in the 53rd annual United States Senate Youth Program held in Washington, DC on March 7-14, 2015. (© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin).

He spoke frankly to the delegates about the perceived price of being involved in public life and the intensive scrutiny it engenders. ”Wouldn’t this be a heck of a place to live if everyone was afraid of that risk and wouldn’t serve?” he reflected. “It’s such a small price to pay for democracy, such a small price.”

Senator Manchin currently leads the Democratic side of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee in charge of Army and Air Force programs, as well as the Energy Subcommittee of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Additionally, he serves on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

 

© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin
2015 Republican Co-Chair Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA)

  • Never stop learning.
  • Lead an ethical life and treat others as you would want to be treated.
  • Love your country, your family, friends and schools. Love people and use things – don’t use people and love things.
  • You will need a deep and abiding faith to get you through difficult times.
  • Have respect for your fellow human beings.

Two months after 2015 Republican Co-Chair Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) spent an evening with delegates, he had a life-changing announcement to make to his Senate colleagues and Georgia constituents. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Continuing the strength and leadership he showed at the Archives, he announced, “My diagnosis has not impacted my ability to represent the state of Georgia in the U.S. Senate. I remain devoted to public service, to my state and to my constituents.”

The senator certainly has a lot on his plate, being the only Republican in the Senate chairing two committees — the Senate Ethics Committee and the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, where he and Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) heralded the July passage of bipartisan legislation to increase veterans’ disability benefits. He has made Veterans’ Administration reform a top priority, frequently speaking out on the Senate Floor and penning powerful op-eds.

© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

Addressing the delegates at the National Archives, Senator Isakson shared profound words on the meaning of public service and he has exemplified that priority since his early years. He is the first Georgian since the 1800s to have served in the state House, state Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. In keeping with his focus on youth, he has also served as the chairman of the Georgia Board of Education.

The closing comments of his keynote address are written in many a USSYP leather journal. “Be willing to dream, for in America you have the opportunity to be whatever you dream you want to be, if you prepare through your ethics, through your respect for your fellow man, through loving your fellow man, through respecting the institutions that have gotten you here, and learning every single day.”

Senator Isakson is running for re-election in 2016.

© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin
2014 Democratic Co-Chair Senator Jon Tester (D-MT)

  • Live up to great expectations like Montanan and Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield did. Show leadership and work together.
  • When you find a mentor or meet a leader, ask them who inspires them. Ask them how they make their decisions. Ask them what matters most in our future. Then you’ll find out what kind of leaders they are, and you’ll find out what kind of leaders you may want to be.
  • Learn new things and diversify. “That’s why I went off and majored in music. I was going to become a diesel mechanic. My folks said, ‘You know what? This farm may not be here forever, so you’ve got to broaden your horizons a little bit and diversify,’ so I went from going to school to be a diesel mechanic to being a music teacher. That’s pretty good diversification, right?”

 

“You come from every corner of the country, but the common bond that unites you is that each and every one of you has something to offer this great nation,” Senator Jon Tester, the 2014 Democratic Co-Chair proclaimed to begin his keynote speech.

Exhorting the delegates to never doubt their prospects for success, he humorously gave himself as an example, “I am not exactly your typical senator,“ he said, jokingly pointing to his non-Ivy League college degree, non-existent law degree, flat-top hairstyle and the loss of three fingers on one hand to a meat grinder. “But I walk in the footsteps of Mike Mansfield, in fact I sit in his seat now– he who led the Senate as majority leader for a record sixteen years and held the expectation that leadership means being willing to work with those of differing opinions to do what’s right for your country.”

Senator Tester exemplifies leadership and dedication to bipartisanship in his recent efforts to improve the Veterans’ Choice program. He is the vice chair of the Indian Affairs Committee and has pending bipartisan legislation with Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) to preserve Native American and tribal culture. He has traveled the United States extensively this election cycle in his chairmanship of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The senator’s support for the USSYP continues, including serving on the 2017 Senate Youth Program Advisory Committee. And he has confidence in the abilities of the next generation, as evidenced by his optimistic closing remarks. “Our country is always changing, as are the people who lead it, although we face challenges that have existed for generations, every challenge is an opportunity to shape our future.”

© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

2014 Republican Co-Chair Senator Bob Corker (R-TN)

  • Master a skill early in life; become an expert.
  • Set a bold vision for yourself.
  • Give back – no matter what age you are, no matter where you live. Be selfless.
  • Adhere to your principles, but stretch a little to be open to compromise.

Against the stunning backdrop of the National Archives Rotunda where our nation’s founding documents are displayed, the 2014 USSYP Republican Co-Chair Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee summarized his own personal story and offered the delegates several key guideposts for life: “First, master a skill early on. Become indispensable. This will give you the confidence you need to propel yourselves into your futures and will afford you the independence that comes from doing something exceptionally well.”

Senator Corker’s leadership skills, mastery of public policy, and desire to improve the world have been recently lauded in his bipartisan efforts to end human trafficking. He is well positioned to tackle this issue as the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The legislation (S. 553) was unanimously voted out of the Foreign Relations Committee in February 2015, and was signed into law by the president as part of an appropriations bill in December 2015. The senator is also serving on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, the Budget Committee and the Special Committee on Aging. He has developed a high profile policy presence on the Sunday news shows in this year’s election cycle, especially sharing his perspective on preventing terrorism in light of recent events in Paris, Brussels and Nice.

© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

The National Archives was perhaps the perfect setting for the senator’s 2014 keynote speech. His love of American history was evident when he was asked about the nation’s charter documents illuminated behind him. He spoke eloquently about the Constitution musing that he wished he could delve into what the framers were thinking as they “wrote this document that has guided us and so many other countries trying to create their own; a document that sets out and embraces the values that we have as a nation.”

  

© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

 

 

 

 

 

 

USSYP Alumni Reflect on Amazing and Intense Experiences at the National Party Conventions

USSYP Alumni Reflect on Amazing and Intense Experiences at the National Party Conventions.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a delegate or work at a national political convention? Several of our USSYP alumni did just that and we thank the individuals listed below for telling us how those experiences changed and shaped their views. Read on to find out what it was like to be directly involved in these historic events – and to glean insight and share a great snapshot of democracy in action!

Convention Participants:

André Gonzales – USSYP 2016 – New Mexico

Matthew Keating – USSYP 2015 – Maryland

Michael Kikukawa – USSYP 2013 – Hawaii

Kate Krolicki – USSYP 2016 – Nevada

Richard Yarrow – USSYP 2015 – Maryland

What was your overall impression of being at the convention? What did it feel like?

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André: There have been two times in my life when I had to take a step back and just appreciate how lucky I am to be experiencing such amazing things, those two times being during the United States Senate Youth Program Washington Week and at the Democratic National Convention. The convention was a fast-paced, content-rich week that I had the absolute pleasure of spending with thousands of others who are so passionate and dedicated to the continuity of our democracy. From being able to listen to eleven-year-old Karla Ortiz stand before the nation and share a deeply personal story about her upbringing to witnessing history unfold right before my eyes as Secretary Hillary Clinton became the Democratic nominee, that week in Philadelphia truly changed my perspective on the United States and the world.

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Kate: Being at the Republican National Convention truly felt like I played a part in history. The hype and excitement behind the party and the nominee (good and bad) engulfed everybody within the Quicken Loans Arena. Every speaker exuded an energy which captivated their passionate audience. To a person like me who loves this country and is fascinated with the political process – it bordered on a spiritual experience. No matter one’s opinion on the nominee, we were all bonded by our conservative beliefs and personal decisions to be Republicans. In the arena we were all one and the same, and that was a feeling I will never forget.

Matthew: Being at the Democratic National Convention was both invigorating and exhausting. A gathering of tens of thousands of people all focused on the same goal of promoting a shared vision for America is exciting, especially when you have worked hard over the years to help implement bits and pieces of it in your home state. Every staffer and delegate I talked to had donated their blood, sweat, and tears through campaigns and advocacy work to promote the ideals of the Democratic Party. The convention itself was wonderfully produced, with amazing speakers ranging from politicians at the local level to even President Obama himself. Caucus breakouts allowed delegates and staff to hear and discuss the party’s work in communities ranging from LGBT, to women, the disabled, and organized labor. The energy in the air was electric, and the historic nature of this convention only compounded this sentiment. Many people inside the stadium became emotional when Hillary Clinton officially accepted her nomination – as it was a milestone in American history and another solid step towards the full political and social integration of all kinds of Americans into the public sphere.

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Michael: My overall impression of the Democratic National Convention was one of party unity and optimism for the future of our country. I was overjoyed to hear from a diverse array of speakers on a wide range of topics — from civil rights and Black Lives Matter to economic and foreign policy concerns. The most memorable speeches, however, were also the most emotional: ones given by the “Mothers of the Movement” and families of fallen officers, as well as the address by Khizr and Ghazala Khan. Every speaker painted a picture of America as a country with its brightest days still ahead of it. I left the convention filled with hope that we can work together to make the world a better place.

Richard: It was incredible. I could feel the rush and excitement in the air even at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, far from where the speeches took place. At the Wells Fargo Center, everything practically reeked of bustle and novelty: the crowds of first-time delegates; the creative hats (including one with a miniature Trump “wall”) and quirky handouts (Facebook provided a fan with Hillary Clinton’s face); the ambitious energy of some of the lesser-known speakers; the determined push of media crews desperate for a story and the equally determined push of visitors hoping to snag a selfie. I think, like many other Democrats, I came into the convention ambivalent about the candidates (to be honest, I split my primary vote between delegates for Sanders and Clinton). By the last day of the convention – and with the conclusion of the convention’s grand, overarching narrative – I felt thrilled about Clinton’s chances and ready to go out and campaign for her.

What was a typical day for you at the Convention?

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André: My typical day at the Democratic convention began with breakfast at around 8:00 am where the New Mexico and Arkansas delegations got to connect with each other and hear from prominent figures about what is at stake in this election. Then after that, usually I took off to the Convention Center for the caucus meetings. On one of my days I addressed and answered questions from 100 high school students from the Junior Statesmen of America who were in Philadelphia for the convention as well. Then in the afternoon I would try to make it to one of the luncheons that I had been invited to before finally making my way to the Wells Fargo Center for the floor session. After the floor session at the Wells Fargo Center, there was usually an evening reception to attend which would wrap up the festivities for that day.

Matthew: Every morning I woke up around 7:00 am to have breakfast with the Maryland state delegation, where we received a briefing from the state party chair and hosted a guest speaker. I reported to work around 11:00 am where we set up the press distribution center for the day. Even before the convention was convened at 4:00 pm, speeches were released by the Democratic National Campaign Committee (DNCC) communications team on embargo for reporters.  That simply means that the speeches for that day were available for reporters to read, analyze, and report on before they were even delivered on stage. My job was to deliver these early copies of speeches to the media – ranging from big news outlets like CNN, NBC, Fox, to major newspapers, to the wires (AP, Reuters, etc.), to foreign media and university press outlets. Often several speeches were released at the same time, and with hundreds of outlets to deliver to, the runs had to be completed as quickly and efficiently as possible. “Press runs” at times literally meant running. The runs would continue until the DNCC had no more speeches to release. At that point, we were free to observe the convention and listen to the speakers.

IMG_7628Richard: I stayed on the other side of the Schuylkill River. Every day, I would wake up around 6:00 am, eat breakfast (sometimes with the state delegation), and take the Market-Frankford line toward the Pennsylvania Convention Center. I would then spend a few hours helping the DNCC, visit some of the caucus or council meetings, survey the vendor areas, or go to a political event near Broad Street. Around 4:00 or 5:00 pm, I would take Philadelphia public transportation (the SEPTA – Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) to the Wells Fargo Center, explore the arena, and talk with delegates. I usually would be somewhere on the floor (for two days, in the Florida delegation) during many of the speeches. By midnight, I would finally leave the Wells Fargo Center and would go on to a post-convention event (for instance, one held by People for the American Way). Afterwards, I might get to sleep by 1:00 or 2:00 am.

How were you selected to participate?

André: Since I was a delegate, I had to go through an election process in order to go to Philadelphia. For my particular position, I ran for a statewide position and had twelve other candidates seeking the same spot. After all was said and done, I was able to get close to 50% of the votes cast at the state convention. I was elected as an At-Large Delegate which means that I helped represent the 110,000 voters in New Mexico who voted for Secretary Clinton during the primary.

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Kate: I filled out an application and needed to be nominated by at least two of the three members of the Nevada’s elected Republican National Convention delegates. This application asked questions about political activism and extracurricular activities. Each state has a different application process, but the Republican convention’s Committee on Arrangements selects and approves each application/nomination from every state.

Matthew: I applied for my position through the Democratic National Committee’s communications team.

 

 

 

What did you see or participate in that surprised you or was different from your expectations before you arrived?

André: I know that many of those at home may think that this year’s Democratic convention in Philadelphia was a sign that the Democratic Party is a party divided. However, after actually being there at the convention and seeing it all for myself, I could not think of anything further from the truth. What I saw in Philadelphia was thousands upon thousands of people coming together and showing just how passionate and invested they are in our democracy. It was quite a beautiful thing to see and to observe the camaraderie that was on display from everyone, regardless of whom they supported during the primary.

Kate: I knew that the convention would have the nation’s attention, but I never considered the extent to which the media truly played a part in making that happen. Most of the arena boxes were filled with makeshift newsrooms, ready to film and commentate on the action. The Republican convention also renovated the parking garage across the street and transformed it into “Media Row.” Everywhere I looked there was a camera, a news backdrop, and free Snapchat/Twitter swag. Media was a constant part of my convention experience, and that is something I didn’t even think about before I arrived. I only thought about the formal political process of securing the nomination, and not the organization of the event itself.

Matthew: I was surprised by how massive an operation the convention was. Our unit of press distribution was just one of hundreds of teams working to execute a specific role that insured a smooth convention. Volunteer positions ranged from directing delegates at the airport, to controlling access to the floor, to insuring everyone got enough food (by far the most important responsibility!). A pleasant surprise for me was the accessibility of our elected officials – senators and other congressional leaders could be seen walking on the floor and open to interaction with convention goers.

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Richard: I attended Bernie Sanders’s July 25th address to his supporters, which was in a corner of the Pennsylvania Convention Center about ten hours before Senator Sanders gave his televised convention hall speech. The room was packed, and a series of progressive speakers first energized the crowd. One threatened that “civil disobedience will follow” if Secretary Clinton didn’t follow through on some of her campaign promises; another said that “we don’t have someone on the platform, on the chair who’s with us.” When Senator Sanders spoke, the crowds cheered him as he described his campaign’s goals and accomplishments. When he said, “We have got to elect Hillary Clinton,” though, the crowd broke into loud booing and shouts of “We want Bernie!” That outcry really surprised me, but what also surprised me was how quickly it seemed to change. By the last day of the convention, I saw delegates with signs that read “First Bernie, now Hillary,” and other delegates waving both “Bernie” and “Stronger Together” signs. If the Democratic attendees weren’t entirely unified at the beginning of the convention, it was remarkable – and comforting – how quickly they became unified by the end of it.

If you were working in any professional capacity, what was your function?

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Kate: I was a page working for the Republican National Committee. Our main duty was to distribute all of the official convention material. Every morning or afternoon before the delegates arrived we placed different documents (i.e. the official Party Platform, Order of Business, Seating Chart etc.) on the delegate and alternate delegate seats. We were also responsible for passing out all of the signs television viewers would see being waved about. All signs on the convention floor were distributed by Republican National Committee pages, and some we even made ourselves. As pages we also had miscellaneous duties, such as being “seat fillers” within a delegation section, or even escorting people to the restroom facilities in media row.

Matthew: My job on the Press Distribution team was to deliver embargoed speeches to members of the media. My assigned section was the news-wires and writing center located right off the floor – which included major outlets like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and members of the White House Press pool.

What did you see and do as part of your state delegation?

André: I was part of the New Mexico state delegation. As a delegation, New Mexico was invited to many different receptions and events throughout the week. Since we shared a hotel with the Arkansas delegation, they did invite us to one of their receptions where we got to hear from President Bill Clinton. There was also another event that I attended with the Latino Leadership Network where we got to hear from Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro as well as New York Senator Chuck Schumer.

Michael: I wasn’t an official member of the Hawai’i state delegation, but I did find them on the convention floor to say “Aloha.” It was a pleasure to meet the people who were representing my state so proudly; to talk about home and how excited we all were to be in Philadelphia and participate in a history-making convention. I was also able to talk to Senator Mazie Hirono, who I had interned for two summers ago. She gave me an update on members of her office whom I hadn’t seen in years, and we talked about how enthusiastic we were to support Hillary Clinton as our next president. The delegation reminded me why I am so gratified to call Hawai’i home, and I proudly wore the kukui nut lei and Democratic Party of Hawai’i pin they gave me.

Photo 7 2016 Convention Blog Kikukawa II with Senator Hirono

What would you like to tell other USSYP alums and future delegates about the importance of the party conventions?

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André: If there was one piece of advice that I could give to my fellow USSYP alumni as well as future delegates, it would be to run for and take advantage of these types of opportunities when they present themselves. I submitted my paperwork to run for a spot on the delegation out of pure impulse, not even thinking about the financial resources necessary to run the campaign or take part in the convention after I was elected. I learned that there are so many people and groups out there who are more than willing to help young people overcome these barriers. Young people absolutely deserve to be able to take part in these life-changing experiences and like the old saying goes, “If there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Michael: The party conventions are an important part of our representative democracy. They are a reflection of the diversity of opinion within each of our parties and are an excellent way to measure the health of our body politic. The conventions serve as an important stage from which each party is able to present its vision for the future, and to advocate for the changes in public policy and public opinion that each pursues. If you are ever given the chance to attend a party convention, I recommend that you jump at the opportunity. They are at the same time extravagant and fun, serious and wonky, and we are all the better for watching and listening to them.

Richard: I met some amazing delegates with phenomenal stories. One older delegate from California had campaigned for social justice causes for decades. One Indiana delegate had immigrated to the U.S. from Argentina, became active in progressive causes, and had travelled around the world promoting peace and nonviolence. However, I saw almost no delegates younger than 25. The Democratic Party may boast some impressive older delegates, but it’s missing the perspectives of youths and young adults. I think USSYP participants should be bold about filling in that gap and trying to become delegates for their states for future conventions.

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Photos courtesy of André Gonzales, Michael Kikukawa, Kate Krolicki and Richard Yarrow.