Riley Clark's Internship

Career Administrator

When I think of “adult problems,” I picture sorting out bills or financing a house. However, as a consequence of my new adult-like life, I found that these problems could also be a lot smaller too. It was 6:30 in the morning and I was certainly not acclimated to this transition into routine. I rubbed my groggy eyes and second-guessed my preplanned outfit decision. I just moved into my aunt’s house a day prior. A quick sort of professional clothes meant a last minute ensemble. “Does a gray sports jacket really compliment black slacks? Does my wearing red suggest that I’m not actually a democrat? Is a statement necklace too wild for the Senate?” Thoughts raced through my head as I neared the start of my internship with Senator Mark Warner’s office in Norfolk.

I had always been a fan of Senator Warner. My dad, although a Republican, gleamed about how he was a moderate and suggested I work there when choosing between Senators Kaine and Warner. From a wider view, however, I simply wanted an internship in government. Being a Third Year at the University of Virginia caught up in the internship culture without ever having one yourself is a challenge to navigate. When I’d tell other students that I’d never had an internship I could see the sympathy in their eyes as if to say, “bless your heart.” Truthfully though, I never saw the purpose of having an internship until I was a good way into my third year. I began to question my major after a hard political theory class and resolved that the only way to figure out my future was to experiment with it. Thus, with a lot of help from my professor Everette Fortner, I embarked on my internship journey.

After the recommendation letters, transcripts, and a dozen phone calls later I secured my internship with Senator Warner and found myself where I am today: in the office of a representative of our country. With great power came great training.  I found myself deep within the intern manual after my first day of orientation. My statement necklace and red blouse mattered little in contrast to the workload in front of me. These manuals tend to illustrate the worst-case scenarios and ‘what if’ hypotheticals, but I quickly found myself engulfed in fear. “What if I am a bad intern?” I resolved to ask a lot of questions. I wanted to make the best impression I could, considering I was interning in the office for a much shorter duration than the other interns. It was crucial that I understood the job.

The first days of fumbling around led to a lot of questions. I felt like a curious toddler asking, “what does this do?” or “can you explain this process?” After establishing baseline knowledge of the daily tasks including, phones, collecting and sorting mail, and filing, I decided to push the envelope. I read in the manual that your experience is what you make it and going along with that one must be proactive. I knew if I wanted to make an impact I would have to speak up. I went into my director’s office and explained my sentiments. I told him how my time was fleeting and I wanted to really invest what I could into this internship. With some thinking he had assigned me some unique tasks, such as being in charge of his calendar. I found helping with his calendar fascinating as I felt like I got a real taste for what it was like to be a staffer just by looking at the events he attended and noting the details of the events. “Connections are important,” he would remind me, so I pushed the envelope on that too. The office encourages interns to tag along to some events, so anytime I saw something on his calendar that seemed “intern friendly” I would ask if I could join. Attending events has been my absolute favorite part of the job. When you meet constituents in the area they always seem riveted by the job. I humbly tell them that I am an intern, but I still feel a glow from being recognized as a liaison to the Senator.

I would be lying if I said most days are glamorous, but glamorous only extends as far as the idealistic view allows. It’s true that there are some mundane tasks throughout my day, but, of course, I never expected to be the head of legislation as an intern anyways. I expected to be less keen on this element of my job, but I actually love it. For instance we have a filing system for events. If you take the task at face value, it seems tedious to sort through each event and catalogue it. As a glass half full approach, I see this as a piece of history. Each event is one that the Senator might be honored at or give a great speech to the crowd. By doing my job I am, in a way, preserving that facet of history.

As my internship winds down, I realize I’m going to miss more than just the work I do. I love my commute. I take The Tide in to work, which is the metro for the Hampton Roads area. I listen to different podcasts on my way to work and I get to walk down two blocks of downtown Norfolk that is always speckled with friendly people and quaint shops. I’ll miss the doorman who smiles at me every morning as I walk into the office. I’ll miss the fancy lobby that gives me the glitz of working for the Senate. I’ll miss the constituents who admire our work. I’ll miss the very routine I have fallen into at work that provides a sense of comfort and ease. Most of all, I will miss the people who I have come to meet. I love my fellow interns. We all share the same deep passions of politics and we bond over our work tasks. I’ll miss the staffers who taught me so much and answered all my menial questions. This internship has provided me a sense of purpose in my pursuit of politics and if my future career even slightly parallels this one, I know I will be content.