Sunday, June 3, 2012

Wait, did I just see Joe Biden in the breakroom?

Well, hello there! It's been a while since I have posted something; I do apologize. Things have been crazy, to say the least, and I've hardly had any time to sit down and pen a nice, solid memoir. What with the conclusion of the semester and that inevitable period of chaos afterwards (you know, the one in which you the hundreds of people in Witherspoon all try to move out during the same three day span), there wasn't particularly anything in my life that I deemed all that remarkable or "blog-worthy."

That period of unremarkable events, though, quickly passed, as now it seems that everything has been happening! And by everything I mean two things: a.) the start of my second summer internship; and b.) Joe. (I'll get to that a little later.)

Now, as you may or may not know, the Levine Scholar's Program expects that its students participate in four unique summer experiences. The first summer (before Freshman year) is, of course, a 25 day course with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS.) The second summer (before Sophomore year), though, is a bit different.

NOLS Alaska: wonderful, yet not the same as a professional internship. (Unless you consider this to be business casual.)

During a student's second summer in the program, they will intern in a Charlotte-area nonprofit for at least five weeks. The expectation is that, during their respective internships, members of each class of scholars will exercise (and actively experience) community engagement in the nonprofit sector. This summer experience is, in large, modeled after the philanthropy of Mr. and Mrs. Levine, whose donations appear all over Charlotte, NC. Ideally, students will walk away from this experience with a greater sense of belonging in the Charlottean community, as well as greater preparation for a life of civic engagement and service.

With all these expectations in mind, I'll admit that I was a bit nervous when I began researching nonprofits to intern with many, many months ago. I looked in to many different places, and was very excited when I found out that I was accepted as an intern with the education department at the Museum of the New South. This museum is located directly off of seventh street in downtown Charlotte, and is completely immersed in the hustle and bustle of downtown life! And, so far, it's been great!

This is the  Museum of the New South. This is where I work. It's gorgeous. 

Since I started two weeks ago, I've learned a lot and have been given a large (and unexpected) number of responsibilities. I'm working with two other interns—Brittany and Cidney—and we've literally hit the ground running. We've been working on implementing a virtual program series to chronicle the history of the twelve images that adorn the exterior walls of the museum, and we've only hit the metaphorical "tip of the iceberg" of our list of summer assignments. Now if that isn't exciting, then I don't know what is.

Even more exciting is that I am actively participating in an attempt to engender historical dialogue in the Charlottean community. In other words, I'm getting to share my passion for the past (my love of history) with the greater community, extending an invitation for them to discover the intricate history of this region. I get to work every day with people who care about these things as much as I do and who, in their jobs, actually attempt to make Charlotte a better place. But that's not even the best part.

No, no, no, the most memorable (and exciting) experience of my internship thus far involves my "encounter" with Joe.

And by "Joe" I mean Vice President Joe Biden.

That's right. I did say "Joe Biden."

On Thursday, May the 24th at precisely 2:45 pm the Vice President of the United States walked out onto a stage in the atrium of the Museum of the New South (that's where I work, that's where I work, that's where I work!) The Vice President was hosting a private political rally for a  grassroots organization of volunteers that have been actively working to register voters and share the Democratic Party's platform. And he came to my museum! Did I mention that this was a private event, closed to the press and the public? And did I mention I was there?

Being allowed to attend this private rally made me as excited as the free tupperware to-go containers at one of my favorite restaurants, Vapiano, located in downtown Charlotte. Nothing gets better than that. 

But, yes! Joe Biden came to my building. My building! He held a rally, led a speech and thanked volunteers that belonged to the grassroots political organization. In his speech, the Vice President thanked these volunteers and then talked about how essential they are to both his campaign and the American political process, in general. He closed the speech talking about the reasons why he believes his campaign is best and, throughout the forty five or so minutes he spoke, continually thanked his supporters. It was a humbling experience to be in the room, especially as I wasn't affiliated with the volunteer groups which he was addressing. I hadn't volunteered with any political campaign and hadn't gone door to door registering voters. As such, I was honored to have been allowed to attend and thrilled to be there!

Here are the other interns and I. From left to right, we have Brittany, yours truly and Cidney.

While being twenty feet away from the Vice President speaking is obviously an exciting occasion, I would hesitate to say that that was the most memorable aspect of this typically once-in-a-lifetime event. In fact, I found the week leading up to the Vice President's arrival to be by far the most interesting aspect of this experience. To explain, I'll need to offer a brief overview of my week.

That's me. And that's Biden in the background. You know, just another day at work. Just the typical 9 to 5...

To understand the scale of this event, let me first restate that this was my first week on the job. On Monday, May the 21st I started my internship at the Museum of the New South. As expected, the first day didn't involve much actual work—I went through orientation with the other two interns and was driving away from downtown by 1:30 in the afternoon. On Tuesday, I was informed by Janeen, my supervisor (and the Vice President of Education) that the Vice President would be coming that Thursday to deliver a speech at a political event. Well, I was surprised. Pleasantly surprised.

It turns out that earlier the Secret Service had swept the building, deeming it appropriate for the Vice President. They arranged to use the space but originally, none of the museum staff—myself included—had expected to attend. We had been informed by the Secret Service that, by noon on the day of Biden's arrival, we were to have "evacuated the building." (That is most intimidating way possible to state "please take off work early.") All of the staff was a bit taken aback, but that was mostly due to the very intimidating nature of Secret Service agents. (Yes, many of them were as scary as you would imagine.) Many of us were a little disappointed, but the fact that the Vice President was displacing us from our workplace was still something to celebrate. And, honestly, how often can a fellow say that on the fourth day of his new job he was sent home early due to the second most powerful man in the nation?

Here's Biden and some of the guests at the private... ahem, private political rally.

The next day, though, I received an email that gave cause for celebration! The Secret Service had granted the entire staff permission to attend the rally (I assume after an extensive background check,) provided that we promptly inform the powers that be. (In other words, we just had to RSVP.)
... And a close up!

So of course I RSVP'ed, allowing me to have the privilege of placing my arm around the Vice President of the United States of America. (See above image.) He was a very nice person and, much to my surprise, took photos with the crowd for at least half an hour after the rally. He seemed very down to earth, despite his entourage of half a dozen aides, Secret Service agents and other assorted personnel. I'll be honest: there were times when I was waiting to see the Vice President that everything just seemed so surreal. There I was, standing shoulder to shoulder with over 200 people, less than ten feet from the Vice President of the United States. It was hard to believe that everything was actually happening; I kept thinking: "pinch me, I must be dreaming."

The whole experience was just remarkable and I have never felt more politically empowered. (I've also never felt more secure—between the police helicopters buzzing over the museum, the bomb squad dogs and the many armed federal officials, I've never felt more secure in my entire life.) While I won't specify my political beliefs, I will say that the chance to attend this rally was a wonderful glimpse into the American political system. It was exhilarating. I

And if that was only on the fourth day of my internship, imagine what I'll be doing seven weeks later. Or even eight. The prospects are amazing and I am very, very excited.