It was mid-afternoon in the Congresswoman’s office and I was sorting through mail as usual. Squinting my eyes, I struggled to read the ballpoint cursive handwriting of an 82-year-old constituent opposed to Medicare cuts. I scanned in the letter and assigned it to the appropriate staffer. I began thinking about how incredible it is that ordinary people take the time to write hand-written notes to their Representative, even when writing did not come so easily anymore. Just as I was about to place the letter in the completed pile, the sound of a loud crowd entering my office caught my attention.
So it appeared that my two o’ clock tour had arrived twenty-five minutes early. Now this was my very first time leading a capitol tour, and my staff assistant had warned me that this group was not the usual crowd of couples vacationing in DC and hoping to take in some sights. My tour training had taken place earlier in the week and consisted of two abbreviated walks around the capitol led by a fellow intern. This probably would have prepared me to guide a few constituents, but I wasn’t so sure it would be enough training for this first tour group.
The group consisted of a dozen international military intelligence students, and frankly I was intimidated. Growing up in Santa Monica, CA, my interactions with the military world had been quite limited. My grandfather served in WWII, but I never got a chance to ask him about his experiences before he passed away. I had one cousin join the Navy, only to quit a year later. One of my goals during my time in DC was to gain a better understanding of the armed services, and become more comfortable with these important issues. I suppose meeting these gentlemen and giving them a tour was as good a way as any to jump-start this process.
So unsure as I might have been, fearing they would ask me questions I could not answer, or I would accidentally lead them to the Cafeteria instead of the Capitol, I introduced myself to the crew and commenced the tour. Without boring all of you with facts about the various rooms in the Capitol, let me say, that the tour went incredibly well (except for almost breaking a Capitol elevator because we were over the weight limit).
The group couldn’t have been more excited to soak in everything about the Capitol, and document the trip with frequent photo shoots. It was actually quite humorous to watch these grown men pose in huddles comparable only to an Olsen twin photomontage in one of their straight-to-video classics. Rather than the serious, stiff gentlemen I imagined them to be, the group was incredibly jovial and gracious. They talked openly about their jobs (except for the top secret information, of course) and the countries they came from. They were extremely grateful for the tour, and made me feel completely at ease.
I don’t mean to generalize that all military personnel act a certain way, or define people through their careers, but I can account for the friendliness and warmth of this group of individuals. Looking back on this meeting, I feel guilty that I carried any expectations about the personalities of the military students. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to get to know these gentlemen over the course of a two-hour tour, and look forward to future occasions where I can become more comfortable with military issues. As someone wanting to enter a career in public service, I hope to gain further insight into those that risk their lives to serve this country.
This experience was just one of many since I arrived in Washington, D.C. where I am placed out of my comfort zone. Going to a large, public high school in an urban city and then a private university in the Midwest, I never thought I was one to lack diverse experiences. I have friends from all different racial, religious, and economic backgrounds, yet coming here I realized there are always different types of people to meet and situations to conquer. Whether sharing a room with a Republican (gasp), or just sharing a room in general as a 22-year-old, I am more than ready for all of the new experiences that this city has to offer.
Dani K., Star Fellow Fall 2009