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  • Writer's pictureMark Vogel

My Experience in the White House Intern Program: Inside the Halls of Power During the Clinton Era

Washington, D.C.

The White House Press Briefing Room in the West Wing
The White House Press Briefing Room in the West Wing

As someone who majored in Political Science, I've always been drawn to the workings of government. I even remember in First Grade when the teacher brought in a television to our classroom to let us watch the peace treaty ceremony between Israel and Egypt. This interest led me to complete three internships in city, state, and the federal government during my college years. The pinnacle of these experiences was my time as a White House Intern during President Bill Clinton's administration. After completing the application process and passing the FBI background check, I was on my way to Washington, D.C. where I was assigned to the White House Office of Public Liaison.

“As an intern, I not only witnessed history in the making but also participated in the day-to-day activities that keep the highest office in the United States running.”

The White House Intern Program

For college students eyeing a career in politics or public service, the White House Intern Program is a golden opportunity. It offers a unique vantage point into the inner workings of the highest office in the United States. Applying for this program involves a competitive process, detailed on the official White House website. Aspiring interns must demonstrate academic excellence, leadership potential, and a commitment to public service.

My Role in the Office of Public Liaison

The Office of Public Liaison, where I was assigned, plays a crucial role in the White House. It's the primary link between the President and the public, involving engagement with various community and advocacy groups. My tasks ranged from administrative support to assisting in organizing events and communicating with stakeholders.

Memorable Events and Ceremonies:

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's Visit

This event was a significant diplomatic occasion, marking the visit of Ukrainian President Kuchma to the White House. As an intern, I got to observe the complexities of international diplomacy. The ceremony on the South Lawn, where President Clinton welcomed President Kuchma, was a formal affair, complete with the signing of multiple bilateral agreements. This event not only symbolized the strengthening of U.S.-Ukraine relations but also provided me with a firsthand glimpse into the intricate nature of international relations.

Farewell to Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide

This ceremony marked the farewell to Haitian President Aristide and celebrated his restoration as Haiti's president. The presence of prominent figures like Colin Powell and Vice President Al Gore, who notably attended on crutches due to a basketball injury, added to the event's significance. President Clinton's speech and the ceremonial signing of documents lifting economic sanctions on Haiti made this an unforgettable experience.

Credit: Photos at Andrews Air Force Base by Diana Fiebert

Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty Ceremony Send-Off at Andrews Air Force Base

Volunteering at this evening event was a unique experience at Andrews Air Force Base. Now known as Joint Base Andrews, it’s where the President's plane, Air Force One flies in and out from. The event was attended by Arab and Jewish Americans who were flying out to the middle east to attend the Jordan-Israel peace treaty signing. My role involved assisting with the coordination of departures and managing various event logistics. President Clinton stopped by to speak to the crowd.

As an intern, I was trying not to get in the way. However, at some point, Governor Bruce Sundlun of Rhode Island tripped over my foot and almost fell towards the President. For a moment I thought the secret service were going to swarm me. Luckily, President Clinton, seeing what happened, generously reached out his hand to shake mine.

My parents visiting the White House

Exclusive Access and Personal Tours of the White House

One of the perks of being a White House intern was gaining access to areas of the White House West Wing not typically included in public tours. I had the opportunity to guide guests and provide insights into the history of various rooms, including the Oval Office, the Roosevelt Room, and the Cabinet Room. A personal highlight was showing my parents around these exclusive areas, including a visit to the Briefing Room and a photo opportunity at the podium. This experience not only allowed me to share my journey with my family but also deepened my appreciation for the history and significance of the White House.

Socks, the Clintons' cat at the White House
Socks, the Clintons' cat at the White House

Meeting Socks the Cat

Amidst the formal events and responsibilities, there were lighter moments, such as meeting Socks, the Clintons' pet cat. During a visit by a high school choir, I assisted in coordinating the event, which included the students meeting with Socks. The amusing sight of Socks on a leash in a back hallway of the White House and capturing a photo with him was a whimsical and memorable moment of my internship. I've never seen a cat on a leash before, and I thought it was quite funny. I guess they didn't want the cat to run around and scratch up the furniture in people's house!

Each of these events, ranging from formal diplomatic ceremonies to personal tours and lighter moments, provided me with invaluable experiences during my time at the White House. They offered a blend of professional growth and personal memories, contributing significantly to my understanding of the White House's role in both national and international contexts. As an intern, I not only witnessed history in the making but also participated in the day-to-day activities that keep the highest office in the United States running. This period remains a defining experience in my journey through the world of politics and public service.

The Oval Office seen from the South Lawn
The Oval Office seen from the South Lawn

Guide to The White House Intern Program:

The White House Internship Program, a hallmark of public service and leadership development, offers a unique opportunity for emerging leaders to gain valuable skills and experience in supporting the work of the White House. The program has been made a paid internship for the first time in recent history, reflecting a commitment to diversity and inclusion in government service.

Application Process and Requirements

The application process for the White House Internship Program is detailed and competitive. Applicants need to create an account to access the application portal and submit two letters of recommendation. Key dates for the application, such as opening and closing times, are specified on the official White House website. The program itself is a 10-week in-person session on the White House campus, with no option for remote participation. Interns must adhere to any COVID-19 protocols set by the White House.

Eligibility criteria include being a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old before the program's start, and meeting one of the following: current enrollment in an accredited degree program, recent graduation (no more than two years prior to the program start) or being a veteran of the United States Armed Forces.

Program Structure and Opportunities

Historically, the White House Internship Program was unpaid until 2022, when a bipartisan spending bill allocated funds to pay White House interns, enhancing accessibility. Interns can work in one of sixteen presidential departments and the program is divided into three semesters: summer, fall, and spring.

In addition to working in the Executive Office of the President, the program includes a speaker series, tours around Washington, D.C., opportunities to volunteer in the community, and attendance at special events. These components provide a well-rounded experience, blending practical work experience with educational and civic engagement opportunities.

The White House Internship Program offers a comprehensive experience for young leaders looking to immerse themselves in the heart of U.S. governance. The program's combination of practical work, educational opportunities, and community engagement provides a unique platform for personal and professional development in the realm of public service. For more information visit the program’s website: The White House Internship Program.


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