Gaining an improved perspective at the White House


Hunter in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House

By Dean’s Intern Todd Hunter at The White House

I didn’t vote for President Obama during either of his presidential campaigns.  But, I believe whoever the President of the United States is deserves the respect and support of all Americans, which is why I applied for an internship at the White House this summer.

My thought process when considering where to apply for an internship consisted of three criteria.  First, as someone who dedicated more than eight years of his life serving as a U.S. Marine before becoming a graduate student at American University, I wanted to continue acting on my belief in public service.  Second, I wanted to continue enhancing the skills I built in the military –- digital video production for the Web.  And third, I wanted to be able to look back one day and be proud of what I did.

After doing my due diligence into some of many internship programs available in the D.C. area, the decision to apply for the White House Internship Program was easy.  I thought my acceptance into the program was a long shot, but I also know that you miss every shot you don’t take.

To say I was ecstatic when confirmation came that I had been accepted into the program would be an understatement, but I was even more excited to learn that I’d be working in my top choice of presidential offices — the Office of Digital Strategy.

My main duties as a video intern were to assist in the editing and script writing process of “West Wing Week,” a weekly Web series released on and the White House YouTube channel that highlights the activities of the President.  I also cataloged and archived video footage in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.

An integral part of the editing process was reviewing every single frame of footage shot by presidential videographer Hope Hall to determine what made the cut for each week’s final product.  This may sound mundane to some, but it was perhaps my biggest privilege and made the biggest personal impact on me during the 12-week internship.  It allowed me to see things, albeit second hand, that more than 330-million Americans will never get to see.

From my computer screen, I got to sit in on closed-door meetings in the White House, see what happens backstage before the President delivers a speech, see how he interacts with other politicians and his personal staff, and I learned he has a pretty good sense of humor.  One of the most striking takeaways, though, was witnessing how he interacted with and treated everyday Americans.  While most people see President Obama on television, I learned who Barack Obama was.  It not only gave me a profound respect for who he is as a President, but as a person as well.

Perhaps the most life-altering facet of the whole experience was not what I learned about President Obama, but what I learned about the American people and American society.  Things are not always as clear-cut to me as I once believed they were.  I finally learned, through watching President Obama’s conversations with everyday Americans, that people are not always beleaguered with difficult circumstances because they slack off or lack ambition, forces such as student debt, medical bills, and even some government regulations can keep people stagnant for years when they could otherwise be moving forward, and not everyone is equally afforded the chance to succeed.  Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have a supportive mom, dad, or spouse to help out when times get tough.  These realizations have lead to an increased empathy within me, and have left me resolute in not rushing to judgment toward the predicaments of others in the future.  For that I am grateful.

The cherry on top of all this was walking into the gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue every morning to work with the incredibly talented staff of the White House Office of Digital Strategy, whose utilization of social media and the digital sphere has transformed American politics.  I was privileged to attend the Medal of Honor ceremony for Marine Cpl. Kyle Carpenter, which was a huge honor for me as a former Marine.  I also attended the White House Internship Speaker Series several times, in which members of the President’s staff will speak candidly to interns about their careers, offer advice, and answer questions.  I was fortunate enough to watch Marine One land on and depart from the South Lawn, and to just be in the same room as the President of the United States on a handful of occasions.  There’s a reverence in that which I cannot describe.

Looking back, this past summer was one of the most impressive and transformative experiences of my life.  I’m glad I set the bar high for myself, I’m glad I took a shot at applying, and I’m proud to have served as an intern at the White House.