By Katie Allen
If you would have asked me four years ago how I felt about the city after my first trip to the Capitol I would have responded enthusiastically, “It is the best place on earth.” I was enamored by the city I found in my history book. The pictures had become tangible monuments and the scenes were no longer printed on a page. I had traveled with a pack of nearly seventy other high school students to tour the capitol and all of its glamour. At the time, I was undoubtedly already looking forward to a future in government and politics but I had no idea of what any of it really entailed. I returned home from that trip still perceiving the city as a very unrealistic possibility for my future because it sat upon such a high pedestal for me.
Fast forward four years to the second week into my second trip to Washington D.C.
If you were to ask me how I feel about the same city today I would respond just as enthusiastically, “It is the best place on earth,” except for very different reasons. I may still be enamored by the beauty and history that is present, but I have been pushed from my comfort zone to a place where Washington D.C. no longer feels as though it is placed upon such a high pedestal.
I have sat down at a table with the Secretary of Agriculture, attended a reception for the new Congress member Joni Ernst, and I walked the halls of the White House. During my first visit I conceptualized these places and the people who worked in them as somewhat of celebrities. Turns out, they are humans too.
During a conversation with Ryan Price, a legislative assistant in the White House and Drake alum, he informed us that his job in the White House is not always as glamorous as we may think. I personally thought the job would include a lot of hands on, intense, substantive work. However, this was only a small portion of what he does. He also spends a great deal of time scheduling, writing memos, and other “mundane and trivial work” as quoted by Ryan himself. Ryan also took us on a tour of the White House where we were able to see the East Wing. We were able to view many rooms and offices and although there were many beautiful portraits (such as this one of John F. Kennedy) and pieces of furniture that decorated the home, it was no longer just a figment of our imagination depicted in films and photos.
Earlier in the week we also had a chance to talk to Chuck Grassley’s staff. Leah Shimp, Senator Grassley’s scheduler and Drake Alum, spent a lot of time talking to us about what it takes to work for a Senator. Again, I had once thought of even the job as a scheduler as an unrealistic goal, let alone thinking of the Senator as anything but a Senator. Leah was positive to inform us that, “Senator Grassley goes home almost every weekend. It used to be because his children were young and he wanted to see them, however, now it is because he hates Washington D.C.” It was interesting to hear that although Senator Grassley is doing work on the hill on weekdays he is eager to get home on the weekends. This bit of information took the Senator out of the cookie cutter idea I had and placed him in the pool of “whoa, these people have lives too.”
Furthermore, as Leah elaborated on how her career path evolved I was drawn back to the fact she began at Drake University (as did Ryan) just like I am now. Later this week we are meeting with David Young, Drake alum who is newly elected to Congress. All of these individuals work and thrive in a city that I once though was far out of reach for the common people. I have been pleasantly proved wrong during this trip. I am now reminded every day that although this city is the heart of the nation, it is still just a city. Although this city is full of a lot of powerful and important people (Mr. President, anyone?), there are many who started out just where I am now.
Placing Washington D.C. upon the pedestal on my first trip here was inevitable due to the lack of interaction I had with the people and places here. This two week academic seminar has allowed me to remove the pedestal, open my mind, and realize that “the best place on earth,” is a tangible and accessible.