I would like to start off by taking this opportunity to thank my professors and Lily for giving me the opportunity to speak on behalf of my colleagues here today. This past semester has been the most tenuous, demanding, and rewarding experience I have had in college so far, and I doubt any future experience I might have while in school will even rival the intensity of this program. Coming from Orlando, Fla., where I go to school at the University of Central Florida, there are few opportunities for those interested in a taste of the public policy sphere, so without participating in this program, I would have had few options to learn about how to really survive in Washington, D.C. Essentially, that’s what I considered Capital Semester to be: a crash course that tests one’s ability to become noteworthy in a place with so much competition for attention and credibility. I think I speak for everyone in the program when I say that we have all learned how to maneuver in this town, and when we all return as professionals, or even interns again, we will have been much better off for having had this experience than those who have not.
Some of those here today might not be aware of the hectic schedule we’ve faced for the past four months. Our weeks were comprised of 9-5 internships almost every day of the week and the courses: Constitutional Interpretation, Economics and Public Policy Issues and Seminar on Public Policy. As a side note, I also held my part-time job at Starbucks every Saturday and Sunday.
In addition to our coursework, we also attended briefings at various sites such as the State Department, CATO Institute, World Bank, Commerce Department and the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office. One of the best components of the TFAS program was the opportunity to personally interact with people who work at these agencies, exchange ideas with them, network and hopefully leave positive impressions on potential employers. For me, these were invaluable experiences, and if I had come to Washington on my own to intern, I would have never gotten to see even the insides of some of these buildings let alone get face-time with officials who work there.
I really feel like I got the best of D.C., and it brought out the best in me. I was one of the fortunate – no, LUCKY – ones to get placed in an apartment with six other girls. Having never shared a room with anyone in my life, this could have been a harrowing experience – but surprisingly it wasn’t! I had the time of my life and forged friendships with fellow students hailing from all over the U.S. I’ve been dubbed so many nicknames in the past four months, I actually had to make a list of them, a few to mention: Weins, Weiny, Tiny Homie, Firecracker, Whiskey (from my internship, don’t ask), and I’m glad I made an impression on my colleagues, in some form or another.
From our professors, we learned several integral points: From John Samples – when it’s appropriate and when it’s not appropriate to yell “FIRE” in a classroom; from Brian Blase– there isn’t such a thing as a free lunch unless it’s free trade, which is, by far, freer than freedom itself; and from Karen Czarnecki, whom I think impacted my opinion of Washington the most, – a strong work ethic and fair-minded decision making will get you far in this town while laziness and ostentatious behavior will get you the boot!
At my internship with the Charles Group, a consulting firm on the Hill, one of my tasks was to attend hearings (where I desperately tried to get on the CSPAN camera view, but to no avail) where I sat in the same room as our nation’s lawmakers. I’ll never forget one of the first hearings I went to where I was 10 feet away from Senator McCain, and although I wasn’t necessarily star-struck, I did elatedly send text messages to everyone I know. I gained a great respect for the legislative process seeing how these men and women contribute to the overall functioning of this country. At these hearings I found some of the exchanges ambivalent, some petty and some extremely essential, but all nonetheless necessary to the democratic principles upon which our government was founded. Reading about it or watching it on TV is not the same as being there. Seeing the process play out affords one a whole new perspective of the legislative process.
As we depart, on behalf of the Capital Semester students of Spring 2011, I’d like to extend a sincere amount of gratitude to Lily Pascucci, Dana Faught, Jennifer Yoo, and the rest of the TFAS staff for bringing us to D.C.; Karen Czarnecki, Brian Blase and John Samples for sharing their insight with us; our internship supervisors for giving us knowledge we would have never obtained anywhere else; and finally, thank yourself for taking this big leap of faith and plunging yourself into the experience of a lifetime and working tirelessly for the last four months. We all came here, leaving our friends, families and schools behind to partake in this program, and hopefully it was the best choice we’ve all made (I know it was for me). Finally, I bid everyone good luck in their future endeavors.