Since she was in elementary school, rising junior Olivia Raisner has been fascinated by Washington D.C. politics. “I can remember sitting on my parents’ bed in second grade, watching the Bush/Gore recount and begging to stay home from school so I could see the results,” she said. This summer, the political junkie has a chance to immerse herself in the fast-paced environment of the White House as an intern for Vice President Joe Biden.
Raisner, who has a grant from the Richard B. ’62 and Sandra Ladd Government Internship Fund — one of the College’s many donor-funded grants set up to support summer internships — recently responded to questions about her White House experience.
Bowdoin Daily Sun: What is your focus? Are you specializing in one area?
Olivia Raisner: I’m interning in the Office of the Vice President, specifically in the speech-writing department. I’ve also been helping out in the communications department, compiling press clips that mention the vice president.
BDS: What are your days like?
OR: Every other morning I help compile a list of the day’s most important headlines for my office’s senior staff. Other than that, what I do really depends on the speeches that the vice president is set to give in the coming days. Depending on where his speechwriters are in the process, I either conduct research, draft memos or help edit and revise the speeches based on the research I’ve done. The highlights are the White House events that require interns’ help. I’ve been lucky enough to help at a mental health conference and a gun safety event, both at which the vice president has spoken. We also have a weekly speaker series featuring different members of the Obama administration, another highlight of the week. Recently, a representative from the Office of Digital Strategy talked to us about how Twitter and Facebook have changed how we communicate, and hearing his experience in trying to navigate the new social media world was unbelievably cool.
BDS: What experiences at Bowdoin helped prepare you for your internship?
OR: Working here this summer actually reminds me a lot of what the environment at lacrosse practice is like. Coach Grote will bring us in before practice and say something like, “Okay, today we’re going to work on full-field transitions, 1v1 defense, and implement a new offense.” And then we work for the next two hours on trying to accomplish those goals. It’s the same thing here. Every morning, my supervisor will say, “We need to get a, b and c done today” and the rest of the day consists of figuring out how to make that happen. They’re both collaborative, high-intensity environments which depend on accepting constructive criticism and voicing opinions. A new offensive play sometimes looks markedly different by the end of practice than it did on the whiteboard, just as the general outline for a speech takes on new life after drafting, editing and discussing.
BDS: What do you hope to gain from this experience?
OR: I want to learn from the people around me, learn from their experiences. I’m surrounded by really talented, bright, passionate individuals. That’s true of my superiors and fellow interns. I feel like every person I meet has done something really worthwhile or has a really interesting back story. So I really hope to get a better sense of their work ethic and how they work together to accomplish tasks. I would also love to become a better writer. I feel pretty lucky to be able to sit down and work with a couple of the nation’s best speechwriters every day, and I’ve already learned so much from them in the short time that I’ve been here. I think more than anything I’m looking forward to see how the government operates in a tangible way. There’s this pervading sentiment out there that government, especially these days, can’t get things done. Even after being here for less than three weeks, I know that’s not true. But I hope that I’ll get to witness and involve myself in projects and decisions that create lasting effect.
BDS: What’s been the most challenging moment?
OR: I wouldn’t say there’s been a specific challenging moment so far, but it’s been tough sometimes trying to manage my time. It’s easy to want to attend all the events, speaker series and service projects, but I’ve learned that being there for your office is the top priority.
BDS: And the most exciting moment?
OR: The most exciting — and moving — moment so far was being able to attend the gun safety event. To sit in a room among members of Congress, senior administration members and victims of the shooting in Aurora was incredibly powerful. Newspaper articles tell us that the vice president vows to make gun control legislation a priority. But to stand 10 feet away from him and hear his voice shake as he spoke about Sandy Hook was poignant. Images of Aurora memorials on CNN were shocking, to be sure. But to hear, in person, the words of a boy my age recount how he was shot multiple times in that dark theater was absolutely gut-wrenching.