Confidence, Grit, and Passion

Interview with Shalanda Young

Aimee Kerr
Shalanda Young

Today we interviewed Shalanda Young, the Democratic Staff Director of the House Committee on Appropriations. Her job has been said to be the “toughest job in congress.” Going into the interview I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t fully understand what her job was, and I definitely didn’t understand what a person with this type of job would be like.

The first thing I noticed about her was her cheerful spirit. She was funny and very engaging. I never once got bored during the whole interview. As she talked about the long hours and conflicts that came along with her position, I realized that she was the perfect person to do it. She never once talked about it in a bad way. She was full of confidence and passion, and you could tell just how much she loved it. This was very inspiring for me to hear. I have always assumed that jobs like this are the ones most people would avoid. To see that she loved it so much despite its difficulties gives me more motivation to go on a difficult path in college. It shows me that I don’t need to worry about something that will take a lot of effort because if I truly enjoy it then it will be worth it. It shows me that I can still be happy and have fun as long as I do what I love.

Like Young said, of course there will be hard times but that doesn’t mean I should ever give up. She never gives up, and she always comes back to her job. This just proves how incredible she is. You have to be a very strong person to be able to be so happy about a job where you are working so hard. I hope that one day I have as much passion towards my career as she does. I know now that I should never back away from something just because it seems difficult. I just need to find the right path, find something that I love doing, and then I won’t mind putting in the effort it takes to succeed.


Jordan Willis

Being on camera crew entails looking through a viewfinder for half of each interview in order to make sure each shot is up to par. The first impression I had of Shalanda Young was through the viewfinder of the camera when she entered the room. Even on that 2” by 4” screen, I could see her charisma, intelligence, and humor. Our interview with Congressman Tom Cole was just ending when she entered, so we ended up just seguing from the Tom Cole interview to Ms. Young’s. From the first question, she melded eloquence, prowess, and humor into each response, which made her easy to listen to and made me want to hear what she had to say.
The part of the interview that impacted me the most was her response to my question. I asked her, “Given that you are the first woman of color in a job that has been traditionally held by white men, what, if any, struggles have you experienced in handling this position?”

Her response? “Not that many actually.” I was very surprised considering I asked the question hoping to gain insight pertaining to the types of racism she experienced with a White House tainted by a leader who has repeatedly made racist remarks and given license to those who do the same. So when she spoke about not really experiencing any racism, I was surprised. She went on to speak more about how while she did experience some racist remarks along with a variety of sexist policies and comments, she believed that those were insignificant.

She looked me in the eyes and spoke to me about finding personal identity as a minority in a place of mostly white people. Her words resonated with me as this was something I constantly struggle with. Her approach was to find one’s worth as a person, regardless of race or gender, and to bring this to any situation. If one experiences discrimination or ostracism because of physical differences, it cannot become a defining part of one’s personality. I took this message to heart and was inspired to see how this type of mindset has elevated Ms. Young to such a position.

I walked out of the interview feeling fulfilled, and had an extremely satisfying and meaningful conversation with some of my classmates about the subject of racism and its subtleties and manifestations in our society. Today has been enlightening. I feel as if I have gained a good sense of how I want to conduct myself, and the philosophy I want to follow as a Black man, and more importantly, as a person.


Imogen Cockrum

After our interview with Congressman Tom Cole, we took a picture with him, and we heard a voice from behind us exclaiming, “Wow, I have to go after that?” (implying how well the interview with Tom Cole went). I realized the voice came from the one and only Shalanda Young. Immediately she made a great impression on us and was very friendly. As we were settling down to interview her, she kept smiling and making jokes with us. We got right to asking questions, and I noticed she answered questions very thoroughly. She had so much passion for her job. Her points were very insightful and struck a lot of us, including me. She spoke about being the first woman of color in her position and about the strength of moving past people’s opinions about her, which was something many instantly related to, as we are still growing up and learning to accept ourselves. She also spoke about the importance of building good relationships with coworkers and bosses, and how opportunities present themselves in ways that we may never know. She was young, but still wise in so many ways. She consistently used humor and jokes in her answers and related on a personal level to our lives by simply sharing her passion, struggles, and stories about her job.

She was so kind, and I’m so glad she gave us the opportunity to interview her. Having three interviews today, I was also glad she was our last one, as it felt like a good way to end a long day. She inspired me to keep myself open to new opportunities, and I hope Mount Madonna left a good enough impression on her, so that she is willing to be interviewed again by future MMS groups who travel to DC.

Opportunities Show Up in Ambiguous Ways

Interview with Congressman Jimmy Panetta

Brigg Busenhart
CONGRESSMAN PANETTA

“Do not let the grass grow under your feet, always keep moving forward,” said Congressmen Jimmy Panetta as we all sat around the table listening intently. He was our first interview of the day, and I couldn’t wait to get the show on the road. Congressman Panetta represents our district in California, and it was fun to see him again in Washington DC. I was ready for something even more powerful than what he brought to our classroom last year and of course, he delivered. Panetta speaks with conviction and confidence, and he works hard at everything he does. He acts as a role model and serves his constituents’ needs.

I was inspired by Panetta’s life path that brought him to where he is today. He didn’t know where he was going or what to expect. Panetta took advantage of every opportunity that called out to him and decided to start saying YES. That impacted me because I have been told to do that my whole life and haven’t started taking advantage of that until just recently. I think it is very important to attack an opportunity because most likely it will lead to success. Panetta said, “To find a great mentor, look for the person who is willing to work their hardest.” Being the powerful man that he has become, we could all see that he followed a path of hard-working mentors and was inspired by their success and intelligence. I think that Jimmy Panetta showed us that it is okay to not know your path because eventually you will find the right path and passion. I don’t know where I will end up, just like Panetta, but I will keep moving forward and not let the grass grow.


John Dias

It was an extremely rewarding experience meeting with Congressman Jimmy Panetta today. He came to us so eager to emphasize that he wanted us to connect with our community and give back to the public. Congressman Panetta explained the path that got him to where he is now, and he explained some of the most important values he learned throughout his long journey. He put a lot of emphasis on the idea that we should always be taking opportunities that are presented to us and that we should “never let the grass grow under our feet.” This message meant a lot to me because I know that wherever my life may take me, I want to always strive to keep moving forward.

Jimmy Panetta is a powerful role model and a man who has dedicated himself to serving the public. The DC trip has greatly expanded my mind and inspired a lot of creative thought. Our interview today with Panetta was a key part of this journey. He had an infectious energy that he brought into the room, and he expressed very serious commitment to represent us on a personal level. He walked with a bounce in his step and spoke to us with a twinkle in his eye. He was so effective in getting his message across because he had clearly lived his life following a set of strong values. He explained the importance of doing the job that you’re doing fully, and he also highlighted the need for public service in order to be an engaged citizen. But most importantly, Panetta emphasized over and over again the power that your word holds. The most critical piece of being in politics and being in the workplace is maintaining a reputation for hard work and dedication.

Mount Madonna students with Congressman Jimmy Panetta

Interview with Congressman Tom Cole

Zach Wagner
Congressman Cole

Our second interview today was with Congressman Tom Cole. Tom Cole is a Republican and represents a fairly large district in Oklahoma. I was especially excited for this interview due to the fact that he is the only Republican we have interviewed so far. While almost all of my social views lean very much to the left, I was interested to see the contrasting opinions of someone who is equally as intelligent but on the other end of the political spectrum. I was intrigued by how Cole’s fiscal policy aligns with my own conservative values regarding fiscal policy. When we began our interview I was initially shocked when Cole decided to go directly to answering our questions instead of giving us opening remarks like the other people we had interviewed.

The first thing that fascinated me was how much he believed in the power of collaboration with his colleagues, the democratic congressman. This theme of collaboration has been prevalent in all of our congressional interviews so far as bipartisan cooperation has been so lacking in Washington recently. I was reassured to hear how the Republicans are also working to mend the gap between Democrats and Republicans. The way Tom Cole described this was that in the past the most conservative Democrats would be more conservative than the most liberal Republicans and vice versa. This created a sort of political overlap that made collaboration far easier since both parties shared some of the same moderate views. Cole went on to say that nowadays, there is barely any overlap at all. This really struck me because ever since the current cooperation issues have been so dramatized by the media, I have been wondering just why this actually was. Another key part of the interview was when Cole told us that opportunity shows itself in ambiguous ways. The concept of unexpected opportunity has been a huge theme in all of our interviews so far, and I found it fitting that it was highlighted in our interview with Cole.

As the trip unfolds, it seems to me that every interview is weaving together one fabric of wisdom. Almost all of the key points made by each person connect to one another in a sort of autotrophic way that begins to grow exponentially as connections manifest. As our first week of interviews comes to an end, I am really seeing the value of so many diverse and wisdom-filled interviews, and I am extremely curious as to how next week’s interviews will finish weaving the fabric of wisdom.


Will Murphy

Congressman Cole is the first interview we have had thus far with a Republican politician. At this point in our interviewing process, we have been able to notice patterns and recurring themes. Because of this, we ask each person we are interviewing about their opinions on these themes. The most important one to me, and most of the rest of the senior class, is the need to stay open to options that come our way. Every person we have interviewed brought up, in some way or another, that they would never have had their current position if not for a butterfly effect of convenient situations and unexpected opportunities that came their way. In particular, Congressman Cole would never have been elected to his position if not for a promise he made to his mother to be her campaign manager for a local race.

Another common theme expressed by nearly every politician, which I thought I would never hear given how the media portrays the political process, is the need for bipartisanship. He expressed very strongly his opinion that making progress towards common goals is far more important than “winning the day,” meaning it is better to compromise than achieve nothing. Like I said earlier, this was quite shocking. When I arrived here, I fully expected the politicians to be self-serving. I am happy to discover that the vast majority of the time politicians want to work for what their constituencies believe in. They are hampered by those who would rather “win the day.” The media then blows their disagreements vastly out of proportion for what I can only assume to be the revenue because from what I have seen of these people I cannot, in good conscience, believe half of the things the media says about our political process. I will take this belief with me after this trip, and I have seriously began to consider a life of public service after seeing the caliber of human beings involved in the system.

Mount Madonna students with Congressman Tom Cole

Listen to Lead

Interview with Congressman Earl Blumenauer

Lucas Caudill
Congressman Blumenauer

Today we interviewed Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District. The interview was conducted in the Cannon House Office Building, a massive, five-story-tall marble structure containing many congressional offices and even more stairs. Since I will be a constituent of Representative Blumenauer when I go to Reed College next fall, I volunteered to be a part of the group that researched and wrote questions for the interview.

As with all other interviews I’ve participated in, the time leading up to the question I had been assigned was somewhat tense as I continuously repeated the question in my head in an effort to perfectly memorize each word. Before long, it was my turn to speak (a moment which came as a bit of a surprise due to a last minute rearrangement of questions). Fighting my anxiety, I tried my best to speak slowly and articulately. My question was specifically concerned with political biases and how we can overcome them to be more receptive to new ideas. After I asked it, there was a brief and terrifying silence, which was broken with Blumenauer saying that it was a difficult question. He proceeded to talk about the differences between humans in terms of who we are and the things we experience over the course of our lives, and how these differences can cause emotional biases. Much of what he talked about reminded me of a book by Jonathan Haidt called The Righteous Mind, which we read this year as part of our Values curriculum.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed the interview. Blumenauer spoke very eloquently. He provided a lot of insight into many relevant issues, and it was abundantly clear that he not only knew a lot about them, but also was very passionate about resolving them. I found Earl Blumenauer to be one of the most interesting and engaging people we have interviewed so far, and, if given the chance, I would strongly consider voting for him.


Noah Kaplan

In addition to the exposure to numerous ideas, the interviews of this trip have offered an interesting insight into the personality and characteristics of our representatives. Today we interviewed Congressman Blumenauer. The moment he entered the room you could tell that his way of thinking was different from that of the others we’d interviewed. Politics tend to attract charismatic, relatable, well-spoken people. Blumenauer possessed these characteristics as well as a very rational, concise way of dealing with issues. He is a counterexample to what the media would have us believe. The media portrays the politician as a greedy, shallow shell who has nothing more than the gift of attracting attention.

Blumenauer has ethics, of course, but he also implements them. He responded to our questions with statistics and scientific data, and well-founded, logical conclusions. He not only reads and listens to studies, but understands them and makes decisions based on them. He acknowledges that his way may not be the best way, but it is what he believes, and he is open to receiving new input. At the end of the interview he asked us if there was anything we didn’t agree with him on, I think partly to give us a chance to express ourselves, and partly because it is in his nature to allow for new ideas. As an added bonus, he is a bicyclist. He believes bikes to be the best form of transportation, and gave us bike pins in support of an organization trying to provide bikes to people in need all around the world.


John Dias

Representative Blumenauer was amazing. When he walked into the room, I knew it was going to be an amazing interview. He took his seat, sat quietly, and took a moment to look around the room at all of us, smiling at us and acknowledging us. He introduced himself and cheerfully told us how eager he was to have a meaningful conversation with us. This first impression made a huge impact on me, and I instantly knew how much this really mattered to him. You could tell from the moment he broke the silence that this man was clearly here because he wanted to be with us. He spoke precisely and passionately, and he answered our questions so honestly and thoughtfully. Blumenauer paused before every sentence he spoke and thought about what he was going to say. When he spoke, whether it was on a policy question or whether he was giving us advice, he gave careful consideration to the complex questions we asked. Representative Blumenauer was so real, engaged, and offered us his full attention.

Representative Blumenauer embodies sincerity; he sincerely cares for the people and the issues he spoke with us about. Blumenauer is a representative for a district that encompasses Portland, and he stands for those people so passionately. He is selfless, his dedication is unprecedented, and he was able to answer our questions genuinely. Blumenauer is a really beautiful example of what it means to be a dedicated American citizen. He gave us meaningful advice about encouraging political action, and I personally saw him as the most inspiring public figure we’ve talked with. Solid in his philosophy and so eloquently spoken, Blumenauer explained the importance of problem-solving as it pertains to political activism. The most important things I deduced from this interview are the power of selflessness and using a meaningful cause to motivate meaningful change.

Mount Madonna Students with Congressman Earl Blumenauer

Interview with Nancy Lindborg

Gracie Howley
Nancy Lindborg

Yesterday we got to sit in on a debate and vote in the House chamber over the Farm Bill. Looking around the room during the debate, I could have counted the women in the room on my two hands. The majority in the room were middle to old-age white men. I couldn’t help but notice how many people were not being represented.

Today we had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy Lindborg, President of the United States Institute of Peace, “an independent institution founded by Congress to provide practical solutions for preventing and resolving violent conflict around the world” (as stated in her page on the USIP website). Despite the depressing picture the media harps on, she believes peace is possible. Change can always happen because of the power of the people within a community. She had planned to become an English professor after earning two literature degrees at Stanford, but she went on a trip to Nepal and never looked back. She said she was living there like a peacemaker before her career as one had even begun. She advised we find what we are really passionate about, find our voices, and let go of the anxiety going into college.

I have never met a prominent female involved in politics whose primary mission was not gender equality and women’s rights. Nancy Lindborg was inspiring to me because I realized that women in politics can work on a variety of issues. She was smart, precise with her answers to our questions, and strong. I felt that we had her full attention, and she was giving us her entire self. I felt a lot of respect and awe on both sides of the interview. Lindborg was a genuinely cool person. She is a strong woman with the courage to share vulnerability. I was inspired by her position and the organization she governs. I felt represented while speaking to her. I hope one day to be able to go back to a voting session like the one that we attended in the House and feel confident that there are strong and capable leaders of diverse backgrounds and genders.


Sienna Clifton

Our interview with Nancy Lindborg, President of the United States Institute of Peace, was one of my favorite on this trip so far. From the moment she walked in, I was immediately intrigued by her and her alluring presence. Normally I am quite nervous to ask a question, but this time I felt completely calm to ask my question about the leadership skills she had learned from her time working with Mercy Corps. After I finished asking my question she smiled and quickly complimented my question, which instantly made me feel confident. Something I found interesting is when she said the key to being a good leader is listening. This was compelling to me because normally I think of a leader as someone who tells everyone else what to do. It was refreshing to hear that other people’s opinions and ideas can be a key to leadership. Throughout the entire interview she made the room feel very comfortable, while engaging and making comments about how prepared we were, which only made us feel like what we were doing was important and respected by the people in DC.

Something else that stood out to me was when she stated that there can still be conflict even in a place of peace. Normally most people associate peace with no conflict, but that just isn’t going to happen; she said, “If there are two people together there is going to be conflict. If there is one person there will probably be conflict.” Conflict is a natural part of human nature, but the presence of conflict does not mean the absence of peace. Overall meeting Nancy Lindborg was one of the main highlights of the trip for me so far, and it was very inspiring to see a powerful woman as president of such an important organization.

Mount Madonna students with Nancy Lindborg

Passion and Problem-Solving

Interview with Aaron Black

Indigo Kelly
Aaron Black

Today we had the privilege of interviewing Aaron Black, an activist and strategist who works with different organizations and political figures to organize protests and draw attention to certain political issues. He was one of the main organizers of Occupy Wall Street and has worked to bring attention to income inequality as well as other issues. When we first walked into the office, we were greeted by Aaron, who made it a point to give us each an individual handshake. I was very excited for this interview because I had worked with Luca, John, and Carl to write the questions and prepare our interview for Aaron. It was difficult to research him because he is very private and avoids the media. When we started talking to him it became clear, he is truly one of those people who just does things because he is a good person. We asked him why he got involved in activism and what kept him going. He said because he cared. He said he had taken so much in his early life that he felt that he had the responsibility to give back. He said that he simply wanted people to have the basic human rights they deserved.

Aaron is one of those people who truly cares. He also talked about how in these polarizing times we have to put problems ahead of political parties, and truly try to do what is best for everyone. He said, “At the end of the day, if we go to war we are going to war beside one another, and we all have one loyalty.” In these times, I think that is a very important thing to remember: we all have one main goal and that is to try and make the best life for the American people.


Will Murphy

Aaron Black is somewhat of an enigma. When trying to do research to prepare for his interview, all I could find were a few scant interviews. It turns out that he was one of less than ten people who started the original Occupy Wall Street movement. I thought that was pretty insane. I never thought that in my life I could meet someone who was at the forefront of such a hot button issue in the modern day. It was refreshing to ask questions about something that was actually in recent memory.

When we interviewed him, it was a bit of a shock. I learned more about him in 15 minutes than I had in hours of research on the internet. It turns out that Occupy Wall Street was just one of his many social-media-based achievements. The man is a genius at getting movements organized and effective in spreading their message. He is by far the most modest person we interviewed so far. You had to grasp the scope of his successes on your own. He didn’t present anything he had done as a great accomplishment. He is really passionate about solving issues, and is willing to work with anyone that wants to solve the problems that matter to him. I admire that.


Luca Peruzzi

I was one of the main researchers for this interview. With this comes a lot of assumptions, but also increased interest. As soon as we went to his office, I knew it would be unique as there was barely enough space for us to fit into the conference room. As we were waiting for Aaron, we spoke with a nice young intern, who works closely with Aaron, and through this small interaction, all nervousness went out the window. With this effortless conversation and with what he told us about his job, all of us knew that interviewing Aaron would be not only fun but effortless due to the colloquial and pedestrian nature of the office.

By the time Aaron Black walked in and sat down, we were all curious to begin to learn more about this man’s job and life experience. As it progressed, the interview became more and more enjoyable, and I became more interested in his story and job. You could easily sense his passion, humor, geniality and down-to-earth nature, all things that were encouraging to see in a person who is working for the rights of many Americans around the country. This feeling culminated in the fact that, when we left, he gave each of us his business card and offered all of us the opportunity to call him if we wanted to talk. I enjoyed the interview and getting to know the real Aaron Black.


Teacher Reflection: Art and Activism

J. Haley Campbell

Why do we make art? The human animal is unique in our need to make meaning of experience and to exist within co-created cultures of shared identities. In my classes, we often find ourselves returning to this question while discussing literature and writing, and I often spin it back on the students. Why do you draw? Sing? Write poetry? Play the violin? Dance? Earlier this year we graffitied the whiteboard with the myriad of reasons we make art:

Self-expression
Coping mechanism
Communicate
Relive past experiences
Educate
Reflect
Engage in a dialogue on an issue or theme
Provoke
Explore
Analyze
To be seen
Make connections
Incite emotions or actions
Resonate
Create cohesion from fragmentation
Evoke an emotional response
Capture beauty, terror, yearning, etc.
Share in the human experience

For the artist, as opposed to those who occasionally “make art”—and I would argue that the distinction may be irrelevant because the human animal is by nature an artist—art is impulse more than choice. We are compelled to understand ourselves and what it means to be human in this place and this time.

Art is not often part of the conversation on our DC trips, but this year that changed when our students interviewed Aaron Black, professional photographer turned leading activist, consultant, and strategist of issue-based movements, such as Campaign to Unload, the Occupy Movement, and rapid-response events during the 2016 presidential election. Aaron is an artist first. He was a young bartender in New York when he started doing photography with musicians. “I just liked working with other artists. I think what they liked was that I was making art; I wasn’t just taking pictures. I was a creative person that had a different thought process. I was working with a different medium, so I became friends with a lot of these people.” He worked with Radiohead, Sonic Youth, Blur, Death Cab for Cutie, Outkast, Queens of the Stone Age, and other bands, and he also devoted time to documenting the causes of economic and income inequality, which helped to bridge his transition from traveling around the country with bands to political activism.

“I’m an accidental activist/organizer. I got angry. I worked with a lot of artists, musicians, actors, writers. If I liked what they were doing, and they liked what I was doing, we would try to come up with some kind of concept and go shoot it, or I would spend a lot of time with them because I always wanted to capture a texture, a composition, and tell the real story.”

While Aaron spoke, I paid attention to the self-identified artists in the room, like Ruby who always has a sketchpad open and ready, and Carl who writes and produces songs, and Jordan who writes stories and poems and knows that he wants to be an artist, but doesn’t want to be constrained by a particular medium. I watched these students and others, looking for signs of epiphanies, not that they would all necessarily lean in to activism and politics, but that Aaron’s story would illuminate the possibilities for their art. To be an artist, we don’t need to sit in an isolated room and ruminate on our own minds; we can be out in the world, engaging, questioning, and making a difference.

In this intersection of art and activism, Aaron knows his creativity and organizing are very much connected and are foundational in creating narrative. “You can’t win elections, and you can’t win issue campaigns unless you are controlling the narrative on the ground, on social media, on mainstream media. It should be authentic.”

Sometimes our world seems so divided—politically, socially, economically—but Aaron’s reflections highlighted our interconnectivity on energetic and technological levels. Fundamentally we are all very much the same—humans struggling for meaning, connection, and purpose—and through art we can access empathy and awareness of our own truths and the universal truths of humanity.

With Belief Comes Engagement

The Capitol Building and Interview with Congressman John Lewis

Carl Ward
Walking through the Capitol

I was hit with the reality of this trip today. After two days of interviews around DC, we were thrown into the heart of the city. We found ourselves in the Capitol Building, carefully walking through marbled hallways, seeing pictures, paintings, and statues of various legendary political figures with every step we took. We kept walking by signs that said, “No Tours Beyond This Point,” and I kept wondering where we were going that was so exclusive and how we were getting such access.

After walking through a few metal detectors and having my mind blown too many times to keep track, a security guard outfitted with the classic earpiece/extra-dark sunglasses look stopped me and gestured toward a large door. I used all my strength to open this door, and on the other side I saw the chamber of the House of Representatives. The actual one! Just like in all the videos and pictures I had seen before, except I actually got to be there. We sat up in a balcony, watching this famous room full of famous people voting on and debating a bill that addressed agriculture, veterans, and food stamps. In a way it reminded me of going to a Warriors game, seeing something I had seen many times, but never in person. Being there makes you realize how real it all is, in a way that a screen just can’t communicate. It hit me right then that all these people are really spending all day making decisions that can end up affecting an entire country. Sure, I knew that before, but now I was watching it with my own eyes.

Not long after, I was sitting across from one of the most prominent figures from the Civil Rights movement, John Lewis. I had that exact same realization while he was describing his experience of the Selma March. I began to wonder how different the world would be if this man had never existed, if he had never been an integral piece of one of the most important movements in US history. I was so enthralled that I forgot to take notes. I wish I could remember more of what he said, because it was all just as amazing as the experience of meeting him. Either way, I spent a day in a place I will likely never return after this trip, and I met someone that I will always remember meeting. Today? Not bad.


Lillian Wayne
Congressman John Lewis

Before leaving for Washington DC there was one interview I had been looking forward to and anticipating the most: Congressman John Lewis. With my mother as the History and US Government teacher at my high school, I’ve learned so much about him and how important he was throughout the Civil Rights Movement. When he walked into the room, everyone’s eyes lit up. When he sat near me my heart was pounding, seeing him up close, and I couldn’t believe he was real. He was such a warm and beautiful person whose words and voice soothed and inspired everyone in the room. When he shook my hand, he looked me in the eyes, and all I could think about was how much history and extraordinary experiences his eyes have seen. I will never forget the incredible stories and words of wisdom he told. I could not take my eyes off of him the entire interview, not even to take notes. I wanted to savor his presence because I’ll probably never get the chance to witness him again.

Earlier in the day we went to the chamber of the House of Representatives and got to watch members of Congress debate and vote. Seeing this was another unforgettable and incredible experience. The room where this is held is a room I’ve only seen in textbooks. I couldn’t believe I was really in there. The room was exciting and full of so much energy. Everyone was passionate as they debated their side of the issues. When the votes were being counted we were on the edge of our seats, waiting in excitement and nervousness for the outcome. We had become completely immersed into the world of politics and debate. Although we have many more days on this incredible journey, I know that this day in particular will be one of the most eye-opening and unforgettable.


Cyrus Kamkar

Today was by far my favorite day in DC and definitely one of the best days of my life. The day was arranged semi last minute, leaving room for many surprises. We started the day off by going inside the Capital Building, where we watched the voting process on a controversial bill called the Farm Bill.

It took a while to enter the chamber of the House of Representatives to witness the vote, and I didn’t know what to expect. We walked through the door, which I thought led to another room we had to go through, or another staircase. However, it was the voting gallery full of members of the House of Representatives. I walked in, my jaw hit the ground, and I froze. I have never felt that way before. I sat in the front row of the balcony and looked down, trying to spot any members of Congress I might recognize. It was absolutely amazing, and still is amazing, that I was in the same room that I’ve seen on television and in photographs, a room where so many big decisions are made. The debate of the Farm Bill began, and it was incredible. After the debate, we got to see the voting process live in action. This made my day.

After sitting through the debate, we went to interview Congressman John Lewis. John Lewis was in the middle of a meeting in the Ways and Means Committee, and we had the opportunity to sit in and watch for a brief five minutes. At this point, I was speechless. I had just been inside the House of Representatives to watch a live vote, and now I was watching the Ways and Means Committee in session, and I still had the Interview with John Lewis to look forward to. We assumed, based off of Lewis’s tight schedule, that we’d get no more than four questions in. Fortunately, we got to ask ten questions. Similar to our pre-trip interview with Secretary George Shultz, I had a difficult time fully realizing whom I was sitting across from and listening to. Lewis’s life experience differs from other Congressmen. He is a man dedicated to persistent service, no matter the cost, in the name of justice. I was looking at the same man who helped change US history, and who marched beside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Lewis said that change comes with an interesting combination of “history and fate.” What I got from this was, we know deep down when it’s time to fight for something, and to act on that knowing means that you are leaving this country a better place than it was before. He also told us, along with everyone else we have interviewed, how important it is to vote. He said, “Why do you think people try to stop others from voting? Because it’s power.” People underestimate the power of an educated and engaged country that partakes in a democracy. We have all the tools; we just need to use them.

I will always remember today as one of the best days of my life. Politics is my main interest, and is definitely the field of occupation I want to enter. Today enriched my desire and passion for politics.


Elias Moreno

Walking through the Capitol Building today and seeing where the decisions are made that affect the whole nation was surreal. We walked into a room with a long table and waited for John Lewis to come in. We didn’t know what to expect or if he would even have time to answer our questions. Luckily, he was able to sit down with us and give us a glimpse of the knowledge that he has accumulated after 50+ years of activism. When I asked John Lewis my question about how we could keep our moral principles in times of crises, he looked me in the eyes the entire time he gave his answer, the same eyes that “saw the face of death” on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. He expressed how we as young people have the power to change the very fabric of our nation, but we must vote. If we truly believe in something we have to be unwavering in our dedication to the cause; we must always have the strength to keep fighting no matter how many obstacles we face. We have to elect people that represent us and the things we are fighting for; we must have diversity of views and perspectives. I could tell from his answer and eye contact that he thoroughly believed in every word he was saying. He wanted so desperately to pass on this message to the youth of the nation, the message of non-violence, love over hate, and importance of community. His answer struck a chord with me. As a young person newly able to vote, I cherish our democracy. We can truly impact our nation and its perception of our people and the world. We have the power to progress views and ideals to a place that comes from love, understanding, and open-mindedness.


Ruby Bracher

While we were guided through the gilded marble halls of the Capitol, I felt as though I might want to join the DC political scene for the architecture alone. High ceilings intricately adorned with stars, sky, and historical events; hand-painted tile floors; narrow, spiraling staircases. It would have been easy to get lost among the sculptures if there weren’t a long line of us, single-file, clinging to the white walls as we made our way towards the Ways and Means Committee where Congressman John Lewis was working.

Our guide led us to a conference room off to the side of a meeting. This was the first time we were allowed to situate ourselves without knowing where our interviewee would be seated, and I had the luck of sitting one chair away from Congressman Lewis.

One of the strangest feelings on the DC trip is recognizing someone’s face from research rather than having met them in person. It was especially strange seeing someone who had been the subject of so many books and documentaries, who had made such a large contribution to the progression of civil rights in our country. When Congressman Lewis first entered the room, my mind immediately went to a tweet I had seen, showing Lewis leading a sit-in during the 60’s next to a photo of him staging a sit-in at the White House two years ago.

Making prolonged eye-contact with him as he answered my question was also strange, along with trying to restrain my stomach from jumping into my throat as I eeped out a small “thank you” when he finished speaking.

One of the most powerful aspects of our time with Congressman Lewis was “with belief comes engagement.” He was only a little bit older than us when he was first arrested for his activism in the early 60’s, and has continued to fight since then, even as he is the last living of the “Big Six” of the Civil Rights Movement. He has managed to stay motivated by his optimism and hope in the good of people, particularly youth. As a young person given access to the right to vote in such a turbulent political climate (where at times it feels my voice doesn’t matter), hearing the emphasis on hope as a means of perseverance from someone who has changed so much in this country for the better against enormous odds is reinvigorating.

Mount Madonna students with Congressman John Lewis

Hope and Empowerment Through Diversity

-Susannah Wellford is the founder of Running Start and Women Under Forty Political Action Committee (WUFPAC)
-Melanne Verveer is the Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, and was the first Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, and former Chief of Staff for First Lady Hillary Clinton


Emily Villareal

This morning we had the privilege of going to the Cosmos Club for breakfast. Since 1878 the club has been a place for intellectuals of many different professions and interest to come together. The building itself was only a few blocks away from our hostel, but stepping into it was almost like stepping back in time. It was beautiful and elegant, and it was something I knew I could only experience because of this trip.

Just a few questions into the interview with Melanne Verveer, I could already see how much she cared about women’s rights as human rights, but she wasn’t just passionate—she was experienced and knew the facts behind her passion. When 30% of the decision makers are women, it reaches a critical mass of representation and as a result companies are more successful in performance. So it can even be in a company’s self-interest to elevate qualified women into board roles. It just makes sense to support diversity.

Sometimes I feel like we aren’t making any progress in women’s rights when I read the news and hear about the violence, lack of education, underrepresentation, and health care issues affecting women worldwide. But Verveer told us stories of hope. In the villages of Senegal it was common for women to go through female genital mutilation (FGM) as a social rite of passage. It was considered necessary if women wanted acceptance by the community and a good life. She spoke with the women of one village, and they told her how they wished they could end this practice. It caused many health issues and pain for the women, but without it they were outcast from the community. Although the country implemented some protections for women, nothing stopped—until Verveer was able to work with the men and women of the villages to communicate what was really at stake in the issue. In democratic discussions the decision was made to end the practice, and because other villages intermarry, the leaders encouraged all surrounding villages to end FGM. Real change happened. Verveer said, “Ending a practice doesn’t begin and end with changing a law.” Personally I have always had difficulty engaging in politics because it felt disconnected from real people to me, but on this trip I am starting to understand how policy and people can come together to move toward equality.


Mara Peruzzi
Melanne Verveer

Today was our second day of interviews in DC. We had the amazing opportunity to interview both Melanne Verveer and Susannah Wellford. Both of these women are inspiring because they have broken new ground in areas that need improvement, especially regarding women’s progress in society. I found both of these women to be not only very knowledgeable and passionate about what they do, but they were also very honest when answering our interview questions.

Melanne Verveer is a very strong and powerful woman. This interview was a little bit different from the other ones so far because we had the chance to eat breakfast at the glamorous Cosmos Club with Melanne Verveer. I was pretty nervous at first, but the moment she came into the room and talked to us freely, I immediately sensed her authentic and wise personality. What I took away from this interview was that countries around the world can still maintain their culture while undergoing change to the desire and rights of their citizens. The most important things I learned were: stay present to your circumstances, use the power you have to determine your purpose, and that we are still working at equality between genders to allow a non-biased opinion of people, especially those in power.

Susannah Wellford

Susannah Wellford is an incredible woman with a very personable nature. Her comforting presence radiated with a positive and very authentic aura. The advice I most resonated with was to take happiness over success/money when deciding what path to take in life. By staying present and in the moment instead of “letting yourself get in the way,” the fear of failure is filed down a little bit and awareness kicks in. As I am still exploring what I would like to study in college, this honest advice was short and simple, but very impactful for me. Wellford spoke honestly and openly about the fear of failure many people hold, and that by embracing failure one can become stronger. Another important lesson related to this is when she spoke about how practicing confidence when you are struggling can actually grow real confidence. From Susannah I learned that asking for help from a mentor, or someone you admire, is not a bad thing. Instead, asking for advice can allow you to grow as a person, as it helps you reach goals that may be hard to attain without some guidance. I also learned that competing against other people who you assume are “better” than you does not improve your circumstances; instead, use other people as resources, not for competition.

Both Susannah Wellford and Melanne Verveer spoke about diversity and how it enhances the richness in life. Susannah touched on how we are often comfortable in our own bubbles, and it causes us to have a hard time opening up to diversity and others’ views and opinions. But, once we learn to open our minds to what we are not familiar with, we can embrace diversity. Melanne Verveer spoke about diversity as well, specifically about how universities with high rates of diversity provide a “richer experience” because there are people who are not just like you; learning about other people’s backgrounds and views can allow you to become a more well-rounded person.


Sage Turner

The trip so far has been an absolute blast, and I am continually inspired and in awe as each new day is met. Today is my third day here, and I have just started to adjust to the pretty dramatic shift of the East Coast. The architecture is breathtaking and satisfying to the eye, the Metro train system is an absolute exhilarating experience, and the hustling of all the confident people here is exciting and has totally propelled our group to strut in our sleek clothes to mirror them. The East Coast street life has so far taught me to be precautious of the wild drivers as well as pedestrians because one grown man has already screamed at me for being in his way.

As far as interviews go, I’ve begun to understand the process more deeply and appreciate it. Creating a question for these influential politicians and leaders is usually challenging for me; however, after some research I can more comfortably get in touch with what I really want to know or take away from the interviewee. I came to this realization today when we interviewed Susannah Wellford. This was a woman that I chose to research in the pre-trip process, and I even got a sense then of what a wonderful woman she is.

The interview felt very much like a casual conversation as Susannah was really approachable and was an overall warm and kind woman. She spoke to us on a common ground, and my classmates and I were able to relate with her easily and really take into account the valuable advice and stories she shared. The fact that she has cultivated her ideas into creating Running Start, her organization empowering women to run for office and participate in politics, was very inspiring to me and was what drew me to her in the first place. From Susannah, I took away positivity, the gleaming future that my generation has the capability of attaining, and how young voices really can be heard. She instilled hope in me.

Since I’m a junior in high school, who doesn’t have any idea which direction to take going into college, she really helped me understand why that is no big deal. She mentioned that many successful people she knows didn’t take a direct path in their lives; they explored many different things and pursued the different directions that opened up, the “zig-zag path.”  She said, “Happiness encompasses everything. If you have something that makes you happy, then you are successful.” This moment struck me because it really ensured the direction I want my life to go, to really pursue something that brings light and joy and gives me daily motivation. Another light that was brought up by Susannah was her view on diversity. She spoke about the happiness she feels when gathering young women across the nation for one of her summer programs and sees the immense diversity in the girls. I connected this perspective she had with that of Melanne Verveer, whom we interviewed this morning at breakfast in the Cosmos club.

Melanne Verveer said, “When people around you are different, that’s a rich part of life.” She accounted that our American culture is critically defined by our diversity and that is what we thrive on. Melanne impacted me instantly with her gleaming kindness and wisdom. She was very interested and wanted to learn about us as much as we wanted to learn about her, which resulted in a very impactful interview.

I really look forward to the rest of the trip, and I’m keeping a very open mind in order to soak up information and get meaning out of the experience.


Aimee Kerr

Today we had an interview with Susannah Wellford. The first thing I noticed about her was her confidence and energy. She talked with so much hope that it gave me hope for the future. I never once doubted anything she said because she seemed to believe in herself so much. About halfway through the interview she mentioned that everyone struggles with confidence. This was a huge surprise to me because I couldn’t imagine that would be true of her. She told a story about how she brings in women to talk to younger girls about women’s rights. She said that even these women would second-guess their performance right after talking to the girls about being confident. This struck me because I do the same thing.

Even just today when I asked Susannah my question, I stressed out about the one word that I had said a little off. I never realized that women with jobs that call for so much confidence might be going through anything similar to what I do when faced with something nerve-racking. Her advice was to remind yourself that you belong. Older women who seem “perfect” to girls my age have their own struggles as well. The fact that they can rise to do such great things gives me hope. It gives me confidence just knowing that I am not the only one and that I can do whatever I want to do as long as I believe I can.


Phoebe Grant

Today we interviewed Susannah Wellford, founder of Running Start, an organization that encourages young women to join politics. The interview was so enjoyable; Wellford was absolutely amazing and inspiring from the second she walked in the room.  She speaks with such confidence on the truth of the political climate, but remains optimistic while doing so. I loved how passionate and driven she is to inspire young women, which is exactly what she did in our time speaking with her. After every question, she took the time to really think about and construct what her answer would be. The whole interview was extremely interesting, but there were a few things that stuck out to me.

She said that no matter what choices you make, even if they’re the best ones, inevitably there will be difficulties. Keep going even if failure is a possibility. What matters are the choices you make regarding how to act towards your circumstances. It helps to allow ourselves to process pain and be able to feel it for a little while. Let it sink in, and then move on.  This lets us process and see what’s good in our lives, which we then appreciate more.

She also spoke about the constant pressure women have to measure themselves against each other, which really stuck out to me. The constant competition of beauty and success that comes with social media, jobs, and even cosmetics ads is so prevalent in every woman and girl’s life, especially for teenagers like myself.  I also related this to my transition to college, and the constant fear that every other girl at my school will be better than me. I want to pay attention and highlight this because I know that if I go into it with that barrier of fear and judgment, it will completely affect my learning experience, and my ability to make friends as well. Everyone, including young women like me, needs to stop putting women down, and start being positive and supportive in order to change our society for the better.


Samith Lakka

Today was our second day of interviews in Washington DC. This afternoon we spoke with Susannah Wellford, a highly intelligent and confident woman who clearly portrays her knowledge about the subject of women empowerment. She is a single mother with twin boys and the head of her own successful nonprofit organization called Running Start.

As soon as Susannah sat down, she had already started up conversations with the people around herself. Her warm smile was inviting and lasted throughout the interview, which made it effortless to ask her questions. When people asked questions, she was delighted to answer and treated it more like a conversation. Each time she answered a question, you could tell she put a lot of thought into her answer in a short amount of time.

After answering all of the questions, she asked us two questions. The first question was about how the previous election had inspired us and the second question was what were the biggest internal problems in our lives. Both these questions had instant responses, which indicated how enthralled everyone was in the interview. For each answer she gave a personal piece of advice on overcoming these internal struggles. Before she left the room, everyone swarmed her to shake her hand and talk to her, but unfortunately she had to leave all too soon due to her busy schedule. The amount of energy left in the room was immense and a majority of the people said that this was their favorite interview yet.

Engaged Citizenship: Contributing to Community

Interview with Admiral Stephen W. Rochon

Cyrus Kamkar

Washington DC has already had a significant impact on me. We spent Sunday exploring memorials and museums. I saw the WWII Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument. Looking at these national monuments was a great way to start the trip and to get a good view of the uniqueness and importance of DC.

We started Monday with our first interview of the trip. Meeting Admiral Stephen Rochon, former Chief Usher of the White House, was a great experience and made me even more excited for what is yet to come. Admiral Rochon has dedicated his life to service, and in my opinion, people like that are the most interesting. Rochon makes a strong point of keeping politics out of the realm of service because he says it would only be a distraction to producing good results, which seems like a rare opinion today.

The end of the interview was the most interesting. Rochon told us that this morning while he was picking out his outfit, he was trying to figure out what pin to wear on his coat. “I decided since I’m going to be with young students that I would wear the American flag.” He sees the impact of engaged, patriotic citizens, and the importance of young people being engaged. He said, “I’ve traveled everywhere, and I can tell you that we live in the best country. It’s great to travel to other places just to see how great America is.” Rochon’s emphasis on remembering the sacrifices people have made for our country made me very glad. It is not something often thought about in our country, especially amongst younger people. I appreciate him seeing the significance of patriotic generations.

Rochon also gave us great advice about what values we should hold in order to become successful. He told us to believe in ourselves, and that “God gave you the tools to succeed.” He also said to surround ourselves with positive, and supportive people, and to have a good attitude in life. He said that to be the best, you have to work hard and sacrifice, and that in the end the reward is priceless.

I will always remember today’s interview with Admiral Rochon and how his advice and shared perspective made me believe that my goals are attainable, especially through living a life of service.


Kaili Sullens

Admiral Rochon had a very strong essence of peacefulness about him. When he entered the room, he took the time to shake each of our hands, and his smile instantly put us all at ease. The first thing that struck me was his statement, “I’m retired from making money.” It takes a very special person to go beyond expectations after they no longer are obligated to work and still dedicate themselves to the community around them, which is exactly what this man is doing. Though retired from his position of Director of the Executive Residence and Chief Usher, Admiral Rochon is still traveling to give speeches, he is writing a book, and he is actively participating in his community.

He is also dedicated to relationships in his life, in particular his mother. When Admiral Rochon talked about his mom, there was a certain sparkle in his eye that can only be seen when someone talks about the most important person in their life. Don’t get him started on how amazing his mother can cook because he will surely describe her brilliant New Orleans dishes, in particular her gumbo. He said, “My mother could turn hamburger meat into a Filet Mignon.” Rochon now has the full time responsibility of taking care of his 94-year-old mom, but points out that if she took care of him for 18 years, why wouldn’t he care for her now? It was things like this that instantly drew me to him, and truly gave me a deep respect for the kind of man he is.

He ended the interview with key ideas of advice that he thought would be beneficial to us, and I have to say they really were. He highlighted that you should have pride in everything you do, something I hope to strive toward and implement in my daily activities. Honesty, integrity, passion, persistence, and belief in yourself were very important points he mentioned, ones that I definitely took to heart. Admiral Rochon insisted you should have high expectations for yourself, and do what you love to do to the fullest. This inspired me heavily being a junior, and not fully knowing what I want to do with my life yet. When he posed the question, “What do you love to do?” I realized it’s not about finding a career that’s “safe” or one that you’ll know you’ll make money in, but rather doing what you love, knowing that if you fully commit, you will succeed in what you do.


Zac Clark

All the stress of preparing for our first interview went away as Admiral Rochon entered the room, greeting us all with a firm handshake, a look in the eyes, and a “Good morning!” “How do you do!” or a simple “Hi!” His greetings brought smiles to all of our faces. As Ward initiated small talk with Rochon, we all relaxed in our seats, knowing the interview to come would not be as stressful as we thought. As he answered our questions, speaking eloquently and from the heart, we all listened closely. Almost every sentence was a new bit of advice that we could apply almost anywhere, but particularly in our leadership roles, which are very prominent aspects of the Mount Madonna academic and social lifestyle.

When he spoke about his mother, you could see a light come to him. You could easily tell that he cared so much about this amazing woman who influenced his life so much. When he spoke about his many different careers, you could sense his immense dedication to the places and people he has worked for. The relationships he has formed are ever-present in his mind. He shared with us a list of 18 bits of wisdom that he is going to share at a commencement speech next week. I wrote them down and will continue to review them throughout my life. They all related to how we should be genuine and conduct ourselves in a way that makes us approachable.


Priyanka Bharghavan

Today was our first day of interviews in DC. For our first interview we had the privilege of speaking with Admiral Rochon. Admiral Rochon is an extremely qualified individual, who has had valuable experience as a member of the coast guard, Admiral of the coast guard, and Chief Executive Usher at the White house. Even now, in retirement, he is a dedicated public servant, a caregiver to his mother, and a passionate speaker.

From the moment Admiral Rochon entered the room, he was very personable and amicable. He shook everyone’s hand, and it was clear by his sheer sincerity that he was truly happy to be there and share his wisdom. The first thing he talked about was a party he was throwing at his home in Louisiana for his alma mater, and that he was going to give the commencement speech at his old high school. He established a personal relationship with us through his casual diction. He told us that he does not accept pay for any of his speeches and that he worked just for the love of doing so. This passion struck me as extraordinary, something that very few people get to experience in their work.

Another aspect of this interview that struck me was his giving, compassionate nature, especially regarding his mother. This interview was timed perfectly given that yesterday was Mother’s Day; he mentioned his mother’s impact in almost every question asked. He spoke of how she tirelessly cared for him and his two brothers so that they wanted for nothing. “I grew up rich, but poor, because my mother made us think that we were rich.” He spoke of how even at the age of 94, his mother is the sharpest dressed person in the room and makes gourmet meals out of hamburger meat.

Admiral Rochon also has great respect for hardworking people and work well done. He talked about his book that illuminates the work of the Pea Island Rescue Crew, specifically the work of the African American crew members who went unrewarded for their life-saving efforts, and how he worked with the current leader of the Coast Guard to recognize these men.

This was definitely the best way to kick off the DC trip. This interview was so interesting and impactful, and makes me even more excited to meet all the other officials in the next ten days.



Interview with Sean O’Keefe

Anika Compoginis
Sean O’Keefe

Today was our first day of interviews. Some of us arrived in DC Saturday, and the rest yesterday, Sunday. Yesterday, the group that was already here went on a sightseeing trip to the national mall, and I got the chance to go to two of the Smithsonian museums, which was a very exciting experience. I had my first experience with subway music while on the way to the mall, and it really brought a smile to my face to hear and see the three people who were singing because they loved to do it. Yesterday afternoon to early this morning, I have been editing and polishing interviews with Ward, and we’re already swamped with new ones to work on.

Early this morning we interviewed Admiral Rochon, who was Chief Usher for the second President Bush and President Obama. Early this afternoon, we interviewed Sean O’Keefe, who has held a multitude of high-level management positions in different companies and organizations. O’Keefe is sometimes known as the Fixer in the business and political world. Some of the more well-known positions that O’Keefe has held are administrator to NASA, Secretary of the Navy, member the Appropriations committee, and budget analyst for the Department of Defense.

This is the first time that MMS has interviewed O’Keefe, so no one really knew what to expect, or how he might respond to our questions. When we walked into the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the first thing I noticed was the light-sculpture that hung from the ceiling, and how fancy everything was. The room we used was just about as nice as the one where we interviewed George Shultz at Stanford University. Before O’Keefe arrived, I was nervous, but that apprehension went right out of the window as soon as he walked in. He walked into the room with a smile, chuckling about something to Ward.

Once we started to get into the questions, it was very evident that he knew what he was talking about, and gave each question equal consideration before giving a thoughtful answer. I found that he didn’t really care about the money aspect of all the jobs he has held, but more the public service aspect. I asked him a question about what it had been like growing up moving around because his father was in the military, like my mother’s father. I was expecting him to respond that it had made for a rough childhood, and that he had wanted more stability growing up. The answer I got surprised me. He told me that he had loved moving around every two years, and that it had made his job situation more familiar. He has spent his career moving from company to company when they needed help, identifying the problem, and pulling in the right people to make the issue right itself.

All in all, I think that he is a very charming man who has taken it upon himself to do as much good as he can, in whatever ways he can.


Gracie Howley

Today was our second day in DC and our first day of interviews. Our second interview today was with Sean O’Keefe who has held many titles, many titles that he said he acquired because he was at the right place at the right time but was otherwise was not the top candidate for. He is a university professor at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School, former chairman of Airbus Group, Inc., former Secretary of the Navy, former Administrator of NASA, former chancellor of Louisiana State University, and former member of the board of directors of DuPont. We landed the O’Keefe interview because it just so happened that my uncle Bill has been his friend for over 25 years. Months ago, we started researching and getting excited about the range and caliber of titles he has held and is holding. Since MMS had not previously interviewed O’Keefe even Ward did not know what to expect, but he knew how to prep, so that’s what we did.

This afternoon we walked a little less than a mile to get to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a beautiful marble and dark wood interior building. The staff was very kind and approachable, and I felt like smiling when around them. We got the room all set up, and then had to do the so-called DC classic, “hurry up and wait.” Since Mr. O’Keefe is friends with my uncle, naturally, I was chosen to greet and introduce him to the class. I waited outside the conference room keeping my eyes on the stairs in front of me and the elevators behind me. I had an impression to make, and I wasn’t about to make it by having my back turned to him when he arrived. I felt like a secretary or personal assistant in my clean, put-together outfit, holding my quickly-filling notebook. I could see myself in one of these buildings one day if that path presents itself to me. He arrived right on time and our greeting went smoothly.

One of the key themes I picked up on from him was the power of the collective. He spoke about how the atmosphere of citizenship in our nation greatly shifted after 9/11. Before the attack, citizenship was very much about the collective and individual liberties were important but were sidelined compared to the value of the whole. Now everyday in the news the main argument is for protecting and enforcing our individual rights and identities. Not to say that our diversity and individuality is not important, however, the responsibility of being a citizen has been left out of the debate. People complain about the final candidates to the presidency, yet less than half of the eligible American population chose not to exercise their right to vote. It was our irresponsibility that created our election. Saying you were busy on election day will give you a lot of time, four to eight years to be exact, to think about how busy you really were.

He admired NASA’s method of approaching a problem from many different angles in order to present multiple favorable paths. He said we are smarter than the smartest person in the room, meaning the collective knowledge of everyone overpowers any one human brain.
He has had many jobs he acquired because the opportunity presented itself to him. He says he is probably the luckiest man we’ll ever meet because he has not, on paper, been qualified for most of the positions he has held: “Don’t turn down opportunities you haven’t been offered yet.”

Overall, leadership and adaptability seemed to emanate from him and weave their way into many or all of his questions. This interview stimulated a more professional part of my brain, and I feel better prepared and excited for the rest of this trip.


Imogen Cockrum

Today at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) we interviewed Sean O’Keefe . When we reached the building, we were immediately astounded by the architecture and beauty of it. Stepping inside, it was just as wondrous. It made those of us preparing to ask Sean O’Keefe questions just a bit more nervous because of how surreal the professional setting was. We stepped inside the interview room and waited. When he walked in, he immediately had a smile on his face and the boys were in awe of his well-kept mustache. Sean O’Keefe was very detailed in his answers and gave excellent backgrounds and stories to extend and justify them. He was very passionate about his career, and it made us excited to hear about the positions he has held and his perspective and advice. The closer the time came to asking my question, the more nervous and excited I became. When I asked my question, I noticed he was very attentive to not only what I said, but to me as well. He was very honest in his answer and kept eye contact with me, while also talking to the whole group. Sean O’Keefe was humble, kind, and humorous. The interview ended, and he seemed to be impressed with our group. We left satisfied and relieved at how well the interview went. Sean O’Keefe was a great interviewee, and I hope that future MMS groups have the opportunity to interview him as well.


Sienna Clifton

Today we interviewed Sean O’Keefe. He had a calm and gentle presence. His voice was quiet, so you felt like you wanted to lean in, hanging on every word. His presence set the tone for the whole interview.

At the end of the interview he said, “We all have an equal right to vote; therefore, we all have equal opportunity and equal responsibility.”  This really resonated with me because it is a simple way to address what it means to be an engaged citizen. He stated multiple times the importance of voting, every time no matter how little you think it will count. It made me realize that now that I am 18 how important it is to educate myself, so that I can exercise the right that has been given to me. Hearing from someone who has done so much with his life talk about the simple things I can do to contribute to the world truly inspired me.

Another thing that struck me was at the beginning of the interview he talked about not saying no to an opportunity before you know what it is or because of a preconceived notion about something. This stood out to me because I am normally nervous about change or jumping into something that I am unsure about. It was comforting to hear about the success that can come from being open to unexpected opportunities. Overall this interview was a great start to our DC trip, and I am so honored that we had the opportunity to speak to Sean O’Keefe.