As I sit and reflect on my Duke Engage experience, I can truly say I have grown as a person and that Duke Engage was a wonderful and life changing experience. As a group we have been afforded many opportunities that seem to be destined to be ours. How we happen to be in the loop to be able to sit front row as President Obama addressed the ever looming student loan crisis. We’ve met North Carolina Representatives David Price and G.K. Butterfield, as well as North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan. We stood in the shadow of the Supreme Court as one of the biggest Supreme Court Decisions of our time was handed down. The list of things we have done goes on and on, from watching the USA Olympic basketball team, to being in the white house twice in a week. We had the opportunity to meet with countless Duke Alumni who’s professions stretch across the board, which gives me hope for the future. Despite all of the opportunities that we had over our two months in DC I am forced to grapple with what exactly everyone got out of it, and how we take this forward.
For me, a big part of service is that it has a reciprocating effect. To some extent you should get something out of service, especially service learning. This doesn’t have to be in the form of community service hours or an extra line on your résumé, but it can also be personal growth. This is what I got from Duke Engage -Washington DC, personal growth. While I did not see the population that I served every day, in fact I only ever met one volunteer that I worked with in person, and only saw 22 of the thousands of new voters that were registered during our time working at Rock the Vote, I still feel that I made a difference. Life will trick people into thinking that everything that they do must be acknowledged in some fashion. If you serve someone it is only right that they say “thank you”. Duke Engage has taught me that sometimes you have to serve in a capacity that isn’t always in the spot light, and that has truly been a humbling experience.
Moving forward I know it seems the only way working with Rock the Vote could possibly translate into life at Duke would be by doing a voter registration drive, which many organizations on campus already do every fall. However, I am challenging myself to take this Duke Engage past the “surface service” that we did, when I try to translate back to campus. I can honestly say even more than learning to register multiple people to vote at a time and learning different voter registration rules for different states, I learned to work efficient with a group of people that I had never had any contact with before. Many people say that groups “self-segregate” and work inside their own bubble. Duke Engage has allowed me to realize that just because someone’s opinions, way of living, and political ideology is different from that of my own, it doesn’t mean I can’t work with them toward a shared goal. If a group of 6 of us could work together for the bettering of the political process for young adults in America, I’m sure that at Duke, groups from all different walks of life can come together for the bettering of the Duke Community.
During our time so far here, we (among other things):
- Visited the White House twice, once to hear President Obama speak
- Stood on the Supreme Court steps when the Affordable Care Act decision came out
- Met with one of our North Carolina Senators, Kay Hagan
- Toured the Capitol and sat in the House gallery
- Registered voters at a Kaskade concert
- Saw USA basketball play at the Verizon Center
- Met with our former North Carolina Representative, David Price
The experiences of this summer almost sound unbelievable when I list them. When I came to DC I knew I would have some great opportunities through Rock the Vote and Duke Engage, but I had no idea I would get to do all of this. The highlight of the summer was definitely visiting the White House and hearing Obama speak (and sitting in the second row!). Seeing him so close for the first time reinforced how human and normal he is. It was also nice to hear him speak on student loans and then see the action on it – action that will save me hundreds of dollars.
I haven’t visited all the museums or seen everything in DC, but I have definitely had fun here. Rock the Vote is a great place to intern with meaningful and interesting work. I have learned a lot through running the social media, and even begun to code some web pages.
Regardless of the incredible experiences here, I am still conflicted on the Duke Engage DC program. The program is just as effective, or arguably more effective, at impacting people’s lives in a positive way as other Duke Engage programs. And the enrichment activities are just as rich as any work I have done in the classroom at Duke. But the work experience, while valuable, is almost completely removed from the population we are serving. I think I am a little disappointed in myself for not considering other, non-DC, programs when I applied for Duke Engage. Maybe it was the allure of campaign season in Washington – but I can’t help feeling that I missed something.
This past week in Washington marked the halfway point of our Duke Engage experience and several exciting events at the Supreme Court and in Baltimore for the group! In the office this past week, I’ve been working closely with my supervisor Amanda, learning more and more about the inner workings of nonprofit fundraising through projects including potential donor research, drafting blogs and notes to donors, and of course updating the Rock the Vote Tumblr with funny voting memes. On Wednesday, the Rock the Vote team set us up with another visit to the White House – this time with a self-guided tour. There, we wandered the various rooms we had glimpsed in the week before, able to observe the old White House furniture, portraits, and beautiful views into the gardens and lawns.
On Thursday, we also ventured to the Capitol to witness the Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. It was incredible to just watch all of the different groups of protestors and supporters with their signs and demonstrations. Seeing reporters donning sneakers and making a mad dash out of the Supreme Court to deliver the ruling, as well as witness the reactions from the crowds, is something I’ll never forget.
On Friday, our Duke Engage group left work early to meet with our in-program professor at the Duke in DC office, where we watched the movie “Iron-Jawed Angels” about the women’s suffrage movement, and then went to the Sewall-Belmont museum for women’s suffrage. It was very interesting to connect the details of the movie with the artifacts in the museum, and it made for a fun excursion.
Later that afternoon, we made our way to Union Station, where we took a train to Baltimore to represent Rock the Vote at a Kaskade concert, registering voters. Passing out Rock the Vote gear for the concert-goers, getting young people registered and even spreading the message about voting was neat to see first-hand. On our way back from the concert, our train encountered the terrible ‘Derecho’ storm that passed through the metropolitan DC area. Our train lost electricity a few times just outside of Baltimore, so it had to turn around to the DWI airport stop, where we took an hour-long cab ride back to DC, eventually getting to bed around 4 am. With the terrible storm taking down trees and scattering debris all over the city we were grateful to be home safe and sound. Needless to say, our exhausted group caught up on some much-needed rest throughout the weekend, avoiding the scorching DC heat wave indoors and at the movie theater.
Until next week,
This past week marked a very great moment for me, one that should seem only simple in passing, but has been a long expected event. In 2008 I had the honor to be a lead field intern for the “Campaign for Change” (Obama’s grassroots campaign vehicle) and dreamed of the day that I could actually see him speak in front me. On Thursday I finally received the opportunity to hear President Obama speak in person.
Through the Campus Progress event, in connection with other area non-profits including Rock the Vote, interns and students in the DC area were extended an invitation to visit the White House in order to hear the President adress the student debt issue. Through some crafty maneuvering all the RTV interns were able to sit in the first two rows and face the President as he adressed students about the hardships that could occur should congress not act soon on the issue. He pushed hard against the partisanship both sides of congress are exuding around this issue and many others and called for immediate action. More importantly he was able to personally connect with all the students in the room using humor to bring us to his side, or at least his understanding. This was also the first time I was able to explore the white house, which is simply a beautiful building inside and out.
This will definitely be one of the crowning moments I will have this summer while in DC, hopefully the next time I see him I’ll be able to actually meet him. I mean he only stays down the street from our office so who knows what the next few weeks will bring
Now that we have been here for two weeks we can no longer plead ignorance for not being on time anywhere. While we still do touristy things on the weekends, I am starting to feel less like a tourist every day. We have mastered the metro, figured out grocery shopping, we all finally joined the gym, and work at Rock the Vote is moving along quickly! Jasmine and I have been thrown into our assignments and for the time being are keeping our heads above water. We are spending a lot of time getting volunteers and logistics organized for the Vans Warped Tour, Jason Mraz, and the Identity Festival this summer. Its a great line up of concerts and bands and I’m really looking forward to getting a chance to be on the ground at one or two of the concerts to run the voter registration tables! For now though we are just doing all the behind the scenes work. I can’t speak for everyone else’s workload but I know that we haven’t been taking our usual long lunch breaks together this week, so that must mean we are all consumed.
Wednesday night some of us attended a Duke in Washington panel on media and communications. We got a chance to hear from three wonderful duke alums who are all now working in media/communications in DC. They had really practical and interesting advice to offer on resumes, interviews, and networking in the field. Also, the new Duke in Washington office is absolutely beautiful!
On Thursday of last week we had the amazing opportunity to go on a tour of the Capitol building with one of the staffers in Representative Virginia Foxx’s (NC) office. It was so interesting to see the system of tunnels that connect the Senate and House office buildings to the Capitol. Our tour guide was awesome and we didn’t have to wait in lines for the regular tours with the public. We got a chance to sit in the House gallery, but the security to get anywhere in the building is really serious – no cell phones or electronics or anything allowed in the gallery. After the tour we had a great dinner with Paul Teller, the Executive Director of the United States House of Representatives Republican Study Committee. Paul is a Duke alum who has been working on the hill since he left grad school and had really interesting insight to offer us! We spent the evening talking about what is going on at Duke these days, going through a recap of this year’s major happenings on campus, and asking Paul questions about his daily life in politics in DC.
Over the weekend Lindsey, Maureen, and David visited some museums and Lindsey made a trip to the zoo (I was really dying to go but still managed to sleep in instead). Alston, Jasmine, and I all went shopping and explored a little more on Sunday which was fun! Its scary how fast the time is flying here, we all have this constant feeling of needing to see and try everything while we are here, and its making me anxious! Stay tuned for more updates as we hopefully accomplish our lofty dc goals!
Meet me at the zoo,
Week one down, and it’s finally the weekend. I can’t believe that the first week has gone by this fast. Duke Engage in DC is definitely a Duke Engage program that is different from the others, but I love it. We are serving (all in different capacities) as interns with Rock the Vote. I feel that some don’t see what we do as exactly what they think of when they hear “service” but we have learned that service comes in many ways. This week definitely was extremely busy for some of us as we helped coordinate volunteer efforts for voter registration at the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas. This was one of the biggest events of the year for Rock the Vote and we arrived just in time to help. At first it seem like we jumped in head first and were overwhelmed but we soon realized that there was no time to shy away from work, so we immediately went to work. We also got a chance to meet briefly with Senator Kay Hagan with a group of student interns, and discuss the cloud of conflict that looms over the interest rate on Stafford Loans, which is set to double from 3.4% to 6.8% on July 1st, 2012 if no action takes place in congress.
Most people walk away from a week of service knowing that they made a difference by seeing the direct effects of what they have done. This may be in the form of a child showing them the test that they passed after a week of tutoring, or a frame for a house that they have been working on. However I have not seen the face of a single person that I came in contact with. Now everything in the past would have told me that what I’m doing is not service, it’s a job. However I don’t believe that is true, after reading an excerpt from Robert Coles’ The Call of Service: A Witness to Idealism that speaks of a 6 year old girl named Tessie who is among the first Black students to attend an integrated school. In her position as a six year old little girl, simply trying to get an education Coles saw her as doing service. Service doesn’t always yield physical results. Similar to Tessie, I can’t see the direct product of my service just yet. However I am perfectly content with knowing that not all good works are manifested quickly.