DC Memoirs, In Case you Missed it:
Chpt 1: Everyone Leaves DC One Day
In the summer of 2000, I spent my first amount of time living in Washington, DC. At the time I was 20 and had just completed my Junior year of college at The University of Massachusetts, Amherst (UMass) as an economics major. Since I was going to be graduating the following year the advice was that I try to find an internship in something I was interested in possibly doing. Plus this was supposed to help in finding a job upon graduation since having experience was valuable to a future employer.
There were a few significant things going on in my life and in the country at that time. During my Junior year I had taken courses beyond the entry level economics course work. I can't recall all of the them off the top of my head, but I had a great interested in labor markets, the history of capitalism in the United States and elsewhere, the consequences of economic inequalities (like income and wealth) in America, and I had to take an economics writing course where I learned about Social Security; it's issues in the coming future and what to do about it. I'd also started an undergraduate economics club to connect students to alumni and developed a program for student's to shadow alumni doing whatever it was with their economics degree.
That spring semester I connected with a woman named Elvira, who invited me down to DC to stay with her and her family. She had son's around my age and had been working at a government agency called the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for a while (they handle discrimination and cases where employers violate the law), so I took her up on her offer that spring break. Pretty quickly, Vira (as she was called) earned the title of my "DC Mother" as she took care of me when I visited, introduced me to people she knew in other economics fields (government and non-profits), and I had a whirl of a week that spring break but left convinced I wanted to intern in DC.
Long story short, it worked out as she connected me to a guy named Michael Calabrese who worked at a think tank called The Center for National Policy. He was looking for an intern that summer to help him do research for a book on....retirement policy! Luckily the Social Security course was still fresh in my head and based on that he hired me to be an intern for about 10 weeks.
At the time I had been with my girlfriend Daryl, who I had been with for about two years. She was supportive to a point of my taking of the internship. Since we were both from the same town in New Jersey, but did not go to the same college (she attended the University of Rhode Island about an hour and half from UMass), it meant that we would not get to spend the summer together. Which being a 20 year old in love sucked, but I knew it was necessary for my career to do it.
I should point out a few other things about that year specifically. President Clinton was wrapping up his last year in office and being an election year, the question was who would continue the great economic progress the 1990s brought with the internet and dot com start ups? It essentially was between two men: George W. Bush and Clinton's Vice President, Al Gore. As 9/11 had not happened yet, the times did not include talk of terrorism or immigration and protecting ourselves. The government had a surplus of money from the good times which was being debated between Bush's tax cut and Gore's lock box and DC in general was buzzing with debates and ideas for the future.
Sometime in late May, my parent's--as it had become a habit at this point--moved me into a dorm at Georgetown University. Actually, it was a suite style dorm and I had four other guy roomates who were all interning that summer as well: Andy (who bunked with me) for his progressive Colorado Congressman, David the same but for his conservative Carolina Congressman, Zach who wrote for a publication I can't recall, and I don't remember the last guy's name because he hardly spent time living or sleeping in our suite. With the election looming that fall and all of us having varying political viewpoints, the suite at times became a debate center, a place where we'd also watch political news, and while we all didn't agree on things every time we became decent friends by the end of the summer.
My internship started and everyday I would grab the Georgetown bus route that took me to Dupont Circle where I'd get on the red line and metro to Union Station (after work I'd walk back to Georgetown from Dupont Circle often throwing my work shirt over my shoulder due to the heat and humidity). The Center for National Policy was a couple blocks down on Massachusetts Avenue. But the symbol that inspired me everyday was seeing the Capital Building not too far off in the distance. With the election going on and the research I was about to start, I felt like a part of something big and important where I could make a difference.
To this day I still say I really enjoyed the internship. Calabrese was a very smart almost 40 year old guy who had gone to Harvard law and Stanford business school, but would tell me I'd made the smarter move to get an economics degree. He would give me numerous topics to research on the economy and I'd have to find articles from other think tanks, noting different policy ideas players had, and do some data digging. By the end of each assignment I would summarize everything for him in a one to two page paper including all the links to the sources. We had many discussions on policy, usually with him talking my ear off, and in the end I learned a lot from him. He would even allow me to go to see debates or talks at other think tanks. For example I saw Newt Gingrich debate with someone from the other side about budget priorities. I even got to meet Leon Panetta (who's a former Congressman, ran the CIA under Obama among other things) who was on the board of The Center for National Policy.
I came home in mid-August brimming with inspiration that I would return to Washington, DC one day and do profound things with my life. I wanted to become an expert in something, help create policies that helped others, and essentially be a policy wonk. It would take me five years to get back to Washington, DC though. In that time I tried getting a job in DC after college and applied for graduate school public policy programs to be back in the thick of things. Both did not work out until 2005 when I had my master's degree in hand and plotted my return.