“Distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.”
– Jonah Lehrer, author
It is unfathomable to think that three years ago, I “hated politics” and at one point, even considered not voting. I am now incredibly embarrassed by this.
Nothing got under my skin more than my father telling me, “but you’re a politician” when I expressed my hatred for politics. Despite the fact that my life’s timeline was one leadership position after another, I refused to believe it. I did not want to be associated with politics, at all.
The idea of politics overwhelmed me. Not being able to fully understand the political process, the politicians, and the issues moved me to give up on caring, altogether. I thought it was someone else’s job—someone who cared.
During my sophomore year of college, I got a late-night phone call asking me to serve as the Public Relations Director for a Texas Tech University Student Government Association campaign. I accepted the request for several reasons: first, I had no idea what I was getting in to. Second, I looked at it as a favor for the friend who called. Third, I was an agricultural communications major who never says no to an opportunity, and lastly, I had heard a few negative comments about SGA, and I wanted to learn firsthand what the organization was about before I ever made judgment.
Despite everything I had previously said about politics, I got hooked on student government. The candidates in my campaign asked me to stay on their team after they won, offering me a position on the executive cabinet as the Director of Political Affairs. I fell in love with the way the branches of government worked and the processes that took place. I felt socially responsible.
If you are wondering what crow tastes like, I did receive a message from a former student who, my freshman year of college, told me that I would love SGA and should move to Washington, D.C. Eating crow tastes like, “I told you so.”
Moving to Washington, D.C. to serve as a congressional intern was my new, burning desire. I feel that it is every American’s duty to understand and care about our government and leaders. I, like most, learn best through immersion and could not pass up the irreplaceable opportunity that Texas Tech offers for students like me through the congressional internship program.
My first semester of my senior year, I served as an intern in the U.S. House of Representatives. I lived in the Texas Tech House on Capitol Hill. I got to eat dinner in restaurants with Members of Congress at the tables across from me. I saw Members walking down hallways only minutes before I saw them on the news, live. I made great friends with one of President Obama’s speech writers, who is an intern just like I was. I watched a prime minister walk into a meeting with President Obama. I watched Air Force One lift out of the gates of the White House and fly towards Las Vegas to work on immigration issues. I witnessed marches around the Capitol after the death of Michael Brown. I escorted the Secretary of Agriculture in a hearing on food stamps, and every warm day, I sat on my office balcony and ate lunch while admiring Independence Avenue and the U.S. Capitol. The list goes on. I did things and witnessed things that cannot be captured by pictures, and that is the definition of a true, irreplaceable adventure.
Living in Washington, D.C. never got old. I eventually accepted the fact that I would never fully understand every issue or memorize every member of Congress. Finally appreciating our government and its leaders changed my life. Never before did I feel both so small and so powerful at the same time. The experience was both humbling and empowering. Living and working on Capitol Hill affirmed how I already felt about the government. I have complete confidence that some people are doing the best they can for our country in regards to some issues, and I firmly believe that there is still much to be done. Even this lack of complete assurance gives me hope because I now know, after serving as an intern, that students like me can and will make a difference in our future, just as interns make a huge impact on the Hill.
Jonah Lehrer’s quote keeps me sane, now that I have moved back to Texas. My family and friends ask about my experience, but it is difficult to explain. I am learning to transition from walking through security every morning in my suit to walking to campus in jeans and tennis shoes. However, Washington, D.C. has left stains on me. I will likely always share the live-feed news updates I receive on my phone with everyone in earshot, and I will probably continue to be one of the few who shows concern. “Someone just tried to jump the White House fence, AGAIN!” I will forever be addicted to watching the news, reading newspapers, and buying boring, business magazines. And, I will likely forever annoy all of my future roommates by watching CSPAN.
I am forever grateful for the opportunity to serve as a congressional intern on Capitol Hill, where the evening news is tomorrow’s world news headlines. Thank you CASNR and my internship sponsors, Plains Cotton Growers, Inc.; Texas Corn Producers; Mr. and Mrs. Dan Taylor; Texas Farm Bureau; Texas Peanut Producers Board; South Texas Cotton and Grain; Landmark Nurseries; Farm Credit Bank of Texas; Mr. Dan Smith; and Grain Sorghum Producers for exposing me to a whole new world. I will never be the same.
Read more about Kelli Neuman here.