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Capital Semester Spring 2011 Student Testimonial

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Heather Caygle (CSS 11)
Capital Semester on Political Journalism
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Heather Caygle delivers remarks during the CSS commencement ceremony.
Heather Caygle delivers remarks during the CSS commencement ceremony.

I remember the exact moment I knew this experience was worth it. Believe it or not, it wasn’t right away. Before I came here, I was very scared. In the months leading up until January, I was getting more and more nervous. See, I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, raised by a single mother. I stayed close to home for college and worked 50 hours per week just to be able to pay for school. Studying abroad was never an option for me. I had a job to maintain, a car payment, rent and tuition on top of that.

Last semester, when the Capital Semester application arrived in my inbox I brushed it off. For some reason, though, I kept thinking about it and decided to apply. I had saved up enough money to live away from home for a few months, I had one semester left in school, my car was paid off and my lease was up. I filled out the application, still not thinking I would be accepted. Then, on my birthday, I received the email from Lily saying I had been admitted. Even though the opportunity seemed amazing, I was still scared and unsure that I was making the right choice. After all, I was going to spend my last semester of my senior year away from my family and friends in a city that I had only visited once and didn’t know anyone. I was nervous!

Flash forward to January 25. I had been in Washington two weeks and had only been at my internship, the Houston Chronicle’s D.C. bureau, for a few days. Then, Rick Dunham, the bureau chief, asked my classmate Gabby and me if we would be interested in attending the State of the Union. Hmmm, let me think about that. YES! OF COURSE! A few hours later, Gabriella and I were walking through the tunnels under the Capitol, riding the elevator with congressmen and then finally settling into our seats on the front row of the press gallery, directly behind the president. Here I was, this girl from Alabama who had previously never even flown on a plane alone, and I was sitting behind the president of the United States, looking out on Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, the Supreme Court justices, members of Congress and many more – all because of TFAS.

(l.-r.) Richard Benedetto speaks with Heather Caygle and her classmate Anthony Maki at commencement.
(l.-r.) Richard Benedetto speaks with Heather Caygle and her classmate Anthony Maki at commencement.

But TFAS has done much more than just provide me with a great internship. Through the classes offered, I have changed my outlook on economics and public policy, expanded my knowledge of the Constitution and studied under a journalism legend, Richard Benedetto – the man who wrote the first front page cover story for USA Today. I met journalism icons, including Carl Leubsdorf, Susan Page and Andrea Mitchell. I visited USA Today, Politico, the National Press Foundation and the Gridiron Club – the oldest and one of the most prestigious journalism organizations in D.C. Some of these activities are things a number of journalists only get to dream about.

Capital Semester even inadvertently helped me take the next step in my career path. One of the graduate schools I was accepted to, American University, offers a reporting fellowship at the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA). BNA, which was founded over 80 years ago, has the most credentialed reporters working on the Hill. Because of my location in D.C., I was able to do an interview in person. During the interview, the editor was impressed with my experience on the Hill and my articles, all of which was made possible through my internship. Starting this August, I will be attending American and working at BNA, something that wouldn’t have been possible without TFAS.

Probably the best part about this whole experience, though, is the friendships I’ve gained. I’m leaving here with best friends from across the country and hopefully a couch or two I can sleep on if needed (wink). The bonds I’ve created with people through this program are very important to me. After a long day of covering hearings on the Hill, scrambling to get back to work to write a story, sometimes in the cold and rain, and then heading to class, all I wanted to do was sit on the couch eating mint chocolate chip ice cream with Sarah, laugh with Korey, and then watch Katie and John (former gymnasts) compete in a handstand contest. By the way, I think John won.

In conclusion, Capital Semester is a crazy, wonderful, whirlwind experience. I’ve made life long friends and memories I’ll never forget. I hardly even recognize that girl who nervously boarded a plane in Alabama 3.5 months ago. Life is beautiful, yet fleeting, so I’m glad that for this one great moment, I had the opportunity to share it with all of you.

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