Shadow Day, Jan 12th

Thursday started out a little differently than our previous mornings.  Rather than everyone shuffling downstairs at 8am together, we each left the hotel to different places all over Washington; different agencies, think tanks, office buildings, and homes.  Our group had launched into the “shadow day,” a day in which we are individually matched up with Wellesley alums from a variety of graduating years to better understand their work experience.  This part of the program is a great glimpse into the working lives of those working in D.C.  This day was really a tribute to the far-reaches of the Wellesley network (as well as a great deal of hard work by Aprill Springfield and especially Charlotte Hayes).  We were matched very well, especially considering the assortment of interests in our Wintersession group.

I was matched, along with fellow student Sara S., with a wonderful alum, Sara Mabry, who works as a legislative aide in Senator Casey’s office.  We walked over in the lovely weather to the Russell Senate Office, admiring the architecture of the city.  She welcomed us as Wellesley sisters, and explained the realities of speaking to constituents, the passing of the health care bill into law, and D.C. dress code.  She told us about her path to her current position, and gave us insight into post-Wellesley life.  I felt so privileged to learn from Sara in this way.  Even though the Senate isn’t in session at the moment, the building was still bustling, and she kindly gave so much of her time that day to help us understand Washington from her perspective.  It was a wonderful experience to speak with Sara on a more personal level, and wrap our minds around “authentic D.C.”

The Wellesley network really is one of the college’s strengths.  Not just in the basic networking sense of the word, but in the way that our graduated Wellesley siblings go above and beyond to truly dedicate their time to helping other Wellesley students.  It is not just some abstract idea that the school pretends to endorse; these are solid friendships and professional relationships forged by our shared experiences of Wellesley, even if they are years apart or in different areas of study.   There is a network of advice and kindness to catch you if you move to a new city, or need help understanding your career path, or even just to feel camaraderie.  We are “Women Who Will,” in thousands of different capacities, and we help each other reach further.  Wellesley siblings open their hearts and minds to each other, in a way that makes me a very proud Wellesley woman.

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Day 3–Morning at Superior Courts, Afternoon in Secretary of War Suite

We began Wednesday morning with a trip to the DC Superior Courts where we met Judge Keary ’71, who shared her road to the bench and gave us some information on some of the cases we were going to observe that morning. I chose to observe the court of Judge Saddler ’76, who presides over domestic cases. Domestic cases were very interesting–some were rather entertaining, and others deeply saddening. The highlight of the day was when Judge Saddler looked out into the courtroom, and asked for the Wellesley students to raise their hands. She then took a recess and invited us to her chambers in the back and introduced herself to us. She answered questions that we had about the cases we’ve seen so far and briefly shared with us her experience to the bench. We had lunch in the Superior Court Judges’ meeting room with Superior Court Judges Ann Keary, ’71, Zoe Bush, ’76, Fern Saddler, ’76 and U.S. District Judge, Ellen Segal Huvelle, ‘70. It was amazing to see all these Wellesley alums on the bench and to hear about their post-grad experiences. Their personal stories really moved me and their advice provided me with a lot of insight on the legal field.

After lunch, we headed to the Eisenhower building, which is the workplace of the White House administration. We met with speakers in the Secretary of War’s suite, which is very cozy and reminded me of the Reading Room in Clapp Library. In this intimate environment, we had conversations with Sarah Hurwitz, speechwriter for the President and for Michelle Obama, Heidi Avery ’89, Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, Ben Holzer, Director of Research, and Pete Rouse, Counselor to the President. I feel so privileged to have been given the opportunity to hear their personal perspective on working with the President and to have them answer my questions. It was amazing to hear Sarah Hurwitz’s experience of transitioning from writing for Hillary Clinton to President Obama and now for the First Lady, Heidi Avery’s sharing of what she learned from her Wellesley years that prepared her the best, Ben Holzer’s story of how he got into politics, and Pete Rouse’s anecdotes of his working with the President from Chicago to DC. It was a phenomenal day from start to finish–it was an honor to learn from amazing Wellesley alums in the DC courts and members of the White House Administration.

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The Wellesley Mafia

You know that thing, the “network”?

Here, they call it the Wellesley Mafia. I think I can now safely say I’m one degree from the president… seven times over. I’ve been given lots of advice on networking (“what you should do is politely stalk”) and advice on life (“don’t leave your relationships to chance -don’t spend all your time working.”) by people like… Hillary Clinton. I’m a little starstruck.

What was really interesting was the different ways that we met with people. Obviously with Madame Secretary and Justice Sotomayor, it was a very formal affair. A set of double doors opened, with Mrs. Clinton walking down the center of a hallway toward us, arranged in her antechamber and beaming manically (an aide of hers said she probably thinks everyone is crazy because they all look like that when they meet her).

On the other hand, meeting Ben Holzer, Peter Rouse, and Sarah Hurwitz at the White House offices was completely different: a roundtable discussion with some of the President’s top advisors. Sarah Hurwitz has written so many of his and Michelle’s speeches (her convention speech included), which doesn’t just mean she writes their words; they actually go back and forth and chat and chill and get to know each other. She had the highest praise for the Obamas a speechwriter could give, “they raise us up, in the end.” Oftentimes, she says, the people she writes for don’t work with her very well and mess up the words she wrote, but the Obamas are straightforward and smart about the job they have to do together. It was very heartening

I have at once narrowed and broadened my desirable options for the future: I don’t want to do very many of the things I walked in planning on doing, but the remaining choices have expanded like an accordion. Needless to say, yesterday after visiting the State Department I realized that I wanted to work at the State Department, and today after visiting the White House and meeting some of the Obamas’ top consultants, I decided to work on a campaign.

You would think that would be a problem, but almost all of the people we’ve met jumped around to a lot of jobs, went back to school, and ended up nowhere they had planned to be.

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Day Two–The State Department & World Bank

Today was a testament to the Wellesley presence in Washington. We met so many amazing alums working in the U.S. Department of State, World Bank, and Oiko Credit, who shared their time and wisdom, and explained how they got from Wellesley to where they are today.

Our first stop for the day was the Department of State, which of course had extremely tight security measures. Mira Patel ’05, Special Advisor to the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff, led us into a conference room. It was  cool to meet such a young alum and to hear about her experiences at Wellesley and working with Secretary Clinton. We met Jake Sullivan, Director of Policy Planning for the Secretary, who spoke to us about how the conduct of foreign policy has been transformed by the rise of new media technologies that have given citizens the power to shape politics.  He also talked how gender equality is integrated in everything that the Department of State does.

After our meeting with Jake Sullivan, we were led to Secretary Clinton’s office, where we met Christine Falvo ’99, Senior Advisor to the Administrator of USAID, who shared her experiences traveling across the world, and described how she went from working from Hillary Clinton’s Senate office in New York to the Department of State. Hillary Clinton took some time out of her busy schedule to meet with us, take a photo, and answer some of our questions. It was really neat to walk around the office and see past portraits of Secretary of States, including Madeleine Albright’s. Afterwards, we went back to the conference room and met with Jennifer Klein, Senior Advisor on Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, and Ann Stock, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. All three of them emphasized how women’s rights are human rights and investing in women is the best development tool for building a better society. Ambassador Verveer stressed that the moral imperative of the 21st century should be that every woman/girl have her dignity protected and her basic human rights such as health care and education respected.

For lunch, we went to the World Bank, which by the way, has a diverse and delicious selection of food options in its cafeteria, and met with a panel of Wellesley alums who work at the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation. It was great to meet so many alums working in different sectors of the World Bank ranging from economics to computer science. All of them gave us very thoughtful responses to our questions and their post-Wellesley experiences really demonstrate how there is no set path in life, and that the best thing to do is to work hard and follow your passions.

After the World Bank, we headed over to Vanguard Communications, where we met Sharlene Brown ’99, National Director of Oikocredit USA, a microlending organization. Sharlene talked to us about the importance of social investment and how it leads to both financial and social returns. After Oikocredit, we headed back to the hotel. A couple of friends and I grabbed dinner at a nearby burger joint called Good Stuff Eatery and watched the New Hampshire primary results.

I can’t believe it is only the second day and we have already met so many amazing people, who’ve been so generous with their time and advice. I can’t wait for all the places we’ll see and people we’ll meet over the next week!

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Meeting Madame Secretary

We strode into a beautiful blue room just outside of the Secretary of State’s office. Vases, and gilded tobacco flowers lined the walls, along with books contained in white-paned glass doors. Chairs were perfectly arranged in a slight curve, identical except for a single piece of paper on the central chair reading “Secretary Clinton.”

Meeting Secretary Clinton still feels like a surreal experience from today, an impossibly amazing dream. She walked into the room emanating strength and grace. We were lucky enough for her to answer a couple of our questions, and take a couple of photos that I know we will all treasure.

It’s a unique experience meeting someone you consider a hero. As they walk towards you, you must reconcile the reality of their presence with the abstract notions of them only kept in your head. You begin to log details for future reference, but the little things fly past quickly. What sticks is the dignity of the person, the full force of a woman who has broken barrier after barrier, a person who has done such amazing work for women globally, and a person who began at the same college that we attend.

It still feels simply unreal.

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The First Day

Vaguely bleary eyed, we went to our first stop today, the Supreme Court. After the obvious photo op at the foot of the building we enter the vast temple of marble. As we enter there is an unmistakable air of respect in a building dedicated to the worship of the law; a place of balance and sober timelessness. There is a quiet, an understanding not of forced silence, but a humbling as we sit in the chamber of the highest court in the nation. The reality of the court sinks in. As vast as the room is, it somehow seems not quite enough to live up to the importance of the branch that will sit shortly before us. This is the place of Brown v. Board of Education; the place of Roe v. Wade. It not only deserves marble pillars-something about the court requires it.

A single handshake in the front of the room, and a secondary silence falls while enormous piles of multi-colored papers and mugs are placed along the Justices’ desk. A buzzer signals absolute silence, directions are given, and we await the beginning of the case.

Something electrifying happens as the Justices enter. The chamber is jolted to their feet. We don’t simply rise at the whim of the court; we are lifted to our feet. A number of lawyers are sworn into the Supreme Court Bar. And then the arguments begin.

There are thirty minutes per argument, interspersed with questions from the Justices. The inquiries are pelted at the lawyers, some questions handled better than others. First the EPA case, and then patent law. The hearing is filled with jargon, and it’s clear that the people speaking are truly great minds.

After the cases themselves, we run to Union Station to grab lunch. It is more like a mall than a simple transport stop. A huge food court awaited us on the bottom floor, and the lot of us eat and many re-caffinate for the remainder of the day. After lunch, as we walk back to the Supreme Court, it begins to snow. It seems strange for it to be snowing, but we slowly remind ourselves that it is January. It only seems unseasonable in comparison to the 50 degree days only yesterday.

We are treated to a tour in the Supreme Court. The docent answers any and all our questions, from the seating positions, to who speaks first in the occasions in which Justices speak at the same time, to the names of the figures lining the marble decorative pieces of the chamber. We spend a short time with him, before we are ushered into a side room. We are only there a moment before Justice Sotomayor enters the room. We rise, and she quickly tells us to sit once more. She is friendly, and warm the entire time. She pauses after each question, and takes her time to answer both fully and with careful wording. She speaks with wisdom, and a collected deliberation that suited her perfectly. This was an amazing opportunity that is still sinking in.

We took the metro for the first time as a group, and shifted to a group of Wellesley women. Over pizza we talk to alums working in NGO’s. They advise, talk about their movement from Wellesley graduation to their current careers, and answer our questions about our impending post-Wellesley lives. There is a certain comfort that always comes from speaking with alums, a reassurance that many different paths out of Wellesley lead to many different kinds of success and fulfillment. A special sisterhood does bond us, and there is a clear comfort in the room as we talk with our panelists, who have graciously given their time.

We come back to our hotel, and are all feeling the wear of the day. It will likely be an early night for all. We’ve managed through the first day, and now we’re ready for the next packed, but phenomenal, day.

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Thoughts on Day 1 – Monday 01/09/2012

Hello All –

Nikki here.  Allow me to introduce myself.  I’m a senior at Wellesley, majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Education Studies.  After graduation this spring (eek!), I’m hoping to do research for a couple of years before going back to school to get an M.D./Ph.D.  Although I don’t see myself working directly in politics, I see that science and healthcare operate on policies set in Washington.  I think it’s important for scientists and healthcare providers to be informed about policy to be effective advocates for their fields.  As such, I decided to do the Wellesley Wintersession program in Washington to learn more about how politics actually work in Washington – something about which I am embarrassed to admit I know very little.  Throughout our program I’ll be updating with my impressions from our meetings and fun-facts I’ve learned.

Day 1 was so so great.  We walked from our hotel near the Capitol to the Supreme Court.  There was already a long line of people waiting to get in for the morning arguments.  Thanks to our amazing site coordinator, Aprill Springfield, we had reserved seats on the court floor so we were ushered in a side door.  After we went through the security check (metal detector and bag check like at the airport) we proceeded on to the main foyer where there were display cases highlighting interesting facts about the building.  Check out the Supreme Court website for more info.  When we got upstairs to the level of the court, we had to check all of our belongings in lockers and then go through another security checkpoint.  The courtroom was beautiful and very regal with fancy foreign marble floor and pillars, red and gold velvet drapery, bronze doors surrounding the space, and impressive marble friezes at the top of the wall by the ceiling.  The justices were seated by seniority, with Chief Justice Roberts in the middle and the other justices alternating outward on either side by seniority.

The justices came in promptly at 10:00am and the arguments began after some new members of the supreme court bar were sworn in.  We heard two arguments: 1) Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and 2) Kappos v. Hyatt.  I had done a little research on the cases beforehand(check out and for more info), which was a big help in understanding the fast-paced dialog between the justices and the attorneys.  I noticed differences in style between the justices approach to questioning.  Some were more outspoken (e.g. Antonin Scalia and Elena Kagan) than others (e.g. Clarence Thomas, who didn’t ask a single question in either case).  They asked different types of questions too.  Veronica noted that Sonia Sotomayor asked very fact-based questions, whereas John Roberts asked philosophical questions.  I thought maybe this reflected different levels of interest in the cases.

After lunch we had a formal tour of the supreme court and then the INCREDIBLE opportunity to meet with Sonia Sotomayor.  After a brief introductory statement, she opened the meeting up to questions from her.  I asked her about the justices’ differences in style, to which she offered an interesting explanation.  She said that Justice Thomas never asks a question in court, as he’s interested primarily in what the attorneys feel is important to discuss.  He knows the law as it’s written, and wants to know how the attorneys challenge or defend that based on their own interpretation.  Justice Sotomayor said her fact-based, analytic approach is largely due to her experience in district courts.  In contrast, many of the other justices served in circuit courts, which impress a more philosophical approach.  She also had some great comments on the challenges to women breaking the glass ceiling.  I was so impressed by her honesty and warmth and thoughtfulness.  She seemed genuinely interested in answering our questions and making a meaningful connection with us.  She discussed her hope for future generations making meaningful contributions to society through commitment to public service.

Group with Sandra Day O'Connor!

In the evening we had a panel with five Wellesley alums working in non-profit public service.  Ada Meloy (’71), Alex Guild (’03), Lori Wallach (’86), Shannon Garving (’96), and Margot Conrad (’03) gave us some great advice on following our passions and using the Wellesley network to advance our careers.  They all emphasized that passion for the cause is a common thread in the non-profit sector.

It was a long, but rewarding Day 1.  I’m looking forward to the rest of the trip!!


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Sotomayor and Nonprofits – day one of WiW2012

I don’t know about the rest of the group, but I could go home tonight and feel like I got my money’s worth. We had three incredible experiences today, and also a tour of the Supreme Court –Just as professor Burke said, as amazing as the tours are, the people are better.

We started the day (in our beautiful suites eating a nice, simple breakfast) with some last-minute studying of the Supreme Court cases we were to hear, and question-drafting for Justice Sotomayor (!) First up were the two cases: Sackett v EPA and Kappos v Hyatt. The first was difficult to follow, but interesting to me; the second was difficult to follow, and even more difficult to be interested in (again, to me.) Hence, I will only attempt to summarize our experience with the first one. It was an interesting case for the Supreme Court to pick, because it was a more political, more pathos-injected case than a similar case that the court had refused to hear. It was about a couple trying to build a house on a plot of land they bought, who, as I understand it, were victim to a procedural EPA blunder, in that they didn’t get the usual warnings before receiving an official Order of Compliance. And the Order was really intense, saying that if they didn’t do all this stuff to return their property to its original wetland state, then they would be fined over 30,000 dollars a day until they did. So they’re suing because they didn’t get due process, meaning that they had to comply with an order before it was reviewed. Basically. It was political in that basically all the Amici briefs (by corporations, mostly) were on the side of this couple, which I thought was interesting. And then I read more about it and realized that if they won this suit, then the precedent would be set for court reviews on all of the huge amount of orders that the EPA makes. And of course that would result in a more pro-business way of dealing with the environment because as it is now, most people don’t attempt to challenge EPA orders, because when there isn’t a mistake made, people get enough fair warning to do things like get permits to build on wetlands. But the Sacketts’ story is really pretty sad. They buy a piece of land, they try to build a house on it, and they’ve practically poured the foundation when they get a mean letter in the mail saying that for every day before they start reversing their land-leveling and planting trees, they’ll pay a 30,000 ish dollar fine. So why did the Supreme Court agree to hear this case and not the other one? Maybe it’s not the reason why, but I notice that its element of pity makes it a lot easier to prosecute against the EPA.

That really ties in with something we all came across when looking up Justice Sotomayor, that she would maybe be an “activist judge.” I wonder if there’s some activism in deciding which cases get heard? We had a lot of questions like that saved up for her, although our tour guide helpfully answered a lot of the more mundane ones (the court votes on whether to hear a case if 4 justices think it’s really important). He also gave us a short history: interesting, that in the beginning nobody really knew what the Supreme Court was going to end up doing, and nobody really wanted to be a justice –they didn’t even have a room to call their own.

But today, being a Justice is way cool. Look at Justice Sotomayor, who practically radiates a calming aura over the people she talks to that just makes them settle in their armchairs and change their minds. We all rose when she walked into the room, and she was very personal and friendly, telling us to sit down and making a bit of small talk. We got in four or five questions before a dastardly aide whisked her off, about her life and experiences. She was so thoughtful, it was as though she had all the time in the world and wanted nothing more than to say exactly what was on her mind, in the perfect and most resounding way. Every question about her life, she turned into advice. And even though she had just seen us for the first time, she seemed invested in us, and in our futures. When someone asked, why did you put in so much effort, make the sacrifices to be here, what motivated you… she said, “you.”

Practically giggling with the thrill of the meeting, and going over our favorite things from what she said, we made our way out of the courthouse and into the snow. We took the metro to our next stop, an alumnae panel about working at Nonprofit Organizations.

At this stop, I formulated almost my entire life plan. I want to be like these women, who all spoke about their jobs with such levity and joy. Lori Wallach, the director of Global Trade Watch at Public Citizen, entertained us to no end about her life story and current job. We arrived early enough that we got to spend extra time with Margot Conrad, who works at Partnership for Government Service, which works on improving leadership and skills among government employees. We stayed after the official panel and –you guessed it- networked.

At this point, sugar highs were crashing and high heels were hobbling. We took the metro home and ordered some thai food –time to read up on the State Department.

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Two Supreme Court Cases–And a Meeting

Wellesley in Washington today heads to the Supreme Court to see two cases, Sackett v. EPA and Kappos v. Hyatt.  Afterwards, a visit with a Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor.

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