Washington D.C. is not only the nation’s capitol, but it is also a thriving business sector. Residing in a city crawling with lawyers and politicians might not sound like the average American’s dream, but the economic success of D.C. throughout the recession has attracted many young professionals. With the highest percentage in the U.S of 20 to 30 year-olds making more than $100,000 a year, snagging an internship there would be the fast-paced, high-return opportunity of a lifetime.
For Lauren Sweeney ’11, a management major at Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, the opportunity was ripe for the taking. Sweeney spent six weeks of her summer as an intern for Senator John Cornyn. After a rigorous application process, she was thrilled to be chosen as one of five interns from across the country.
Though she had visited D.C. before, Sweeney had never been immersed in its culture. A sea of black suits flooding in and out of the Metro station is no exaggeration: life on Capitol Hill moves quickly, and for Sweeney it was difficult to avoid “drowning in the pool of opportunity.”
“I did something different, went somewhere different, and met someone different every single day,” Sweeney said, browsing through the personal journal of her experiences. But the chronicle, she says, doesn’t do justice to her adventures.
Networking took on new meaning. Sweeney spent her lunch breaks with politicians and activists, including Senator and Texas gubernatorial hopeful Kay Bailey Hutchison. In the evenings, Sweeney attended parties and dinners, socializing with the political elite.
Senator Cornyn and his staff arranged for various people to meet with the interns including Robert Gates, U.S. Secretary of Defense and former president of Texas A&M University. “Dr. Gates was my favorite,” said Sweeney. “He had so much life in his speech, and he talked about us as a country. He was very patriotic, and you could tell he really does love America.”
After weeks in the thick of American political life, Sweeney said she was unsure whether or not she could ever be a politician. “You can’t please everybody,” she said as she discussed that life. “There are so many people who like Senator Cornyn, but there are just as many who don’t.” Every day, the senator’s phones rang, rang, rang. Many praised Cornyn and many were angry.
Making tough decisions daily would be the hardest part she said. “As a politician, sometimes you have to go against your personal opinions for the good of the majority.” Knowing that, no matter what decision you make, someone will be unhappy, gave her a sobering view of leadership in a corporation.
Business life in D.C. isn’t always about the red, white, and blue; most of the time it’s about the black, blue, and purple. “There are many ambitious people who don’t mind throwing elbows,” Sweeney says. This was eye-opening for her.
Another, happier discovery was Texas’ distinct culture. One task of her internship was to give tours for Cornyn’s VIP guests, all Texans. “Texans are genuinely friendly,” Sweeney remarks. “I have lived here my whole life; I didn’t understand that friendliness until I spent several weeks somewhere else. It was always refreshing to spend time with [Texans].”
Sweeney, a native of Houston, Texas, has been actively involved in the A&M chapter of Christian Business Leaders since her freshman year and is now an officer. In the future, she plans to become a counselor, primarily for human trafficking victims, and also wishes to study law in order to seek justice for these victims.