Reflecting on a Life-Changing Summer

By Emily McDonough — My summer in Washington DC has been a life-changing one, full of experiences and memories that I will undoubtedly carry with me long into the future.

It is the lessons and exposure that I have gained here which will continue to mold each of mento the change agent which I am destined to become.  If you had asked me two months ago what I was looking to gain from my summer here in Washington, you would have gotten a drastically different answer than the one I would give you today.

I applied to the TFAS program slightly on a whim; being in Washington DC the summer before a presidential election seemed like it would be kind of exciting, and I thought that the IPVS program might be a great way to merge my two majors while giving back to the community in the process.  After receiving my acceptance letter, however, and as June approached, I began to feel more and more anxious about the uncertainties which made up my summer plans.  Honestly, I had no idea what to expect, so I vowed that I would just dive headfirst into this experience and make the most of every opportunity that came my way.

Fast forward to today.  Next week will mark my eighth and final week here in DC.  Although it feels like only yesterday that I began this journey here in DC, I feel as if the experiences that I have had, the friendships I have made, and the lessons that I have learned over the past eight weeks are truly invaluable and could have taken me a lifetime to accumulate.  Reflecting on my time here, there are three specific things which, I believe, have defined my summer and made my eight weeks here into a life-long learning experience.

The first of these defining factors is this amazing city that I have been able to call my summer home away from home.  Washington is such an extremely unique city in and of itself; it is a city of growth, progress, and evolution, full of intellectual change makers who are determined to make a difference in the world around them.  It is the epicenter of our country and a city of countless opportunities just waiting to be taken advantage of.

At the same time, however, WashingtonDC struggles just as much as it succeeds.  My nonprofit work has allowed me to experience, first-hand, the various realms is which this city has difficulty, such as through homelessness, hunger, education, and the like.  Living in DC this summer has given me the unique opportunity to both take advantage of incredible opportunities which I would not have gotten any place else, while at the same time gaining exposure to the extreme need which plagues this country every single day.  The opportunity to experience all aspects of this city has been truly valuable to me, and I know that Washington will always hold a special place in my heart, regardless of where I end up in the future.

The second aspect of my summer which has influenced my time here dramatically was the day-to-do work we will involved with throughout the week.  Now, if you ask any of my peers here, I am sure they will tell you that our minimum 8:30am-8:30pm days were not often our favorite aspect of our summer, but the lack of sleep time was certainly well worth it.  Our days started, of course, with work at our nonprofit internships.  I was fortunate enough to be working for Jumpstart for Young Children this summer, an early-literacy intervention organization who’s program ensures that at-risk preschool students begin kindergarten with all of the literacy and language skills they need to succeed.

My internship focused primarily on government relations and development work for Jumpstart, and I gained experience in various arenas including event planning for an annual event on Capitol Hill, community outreach, grant writing, and policy work.  Jumpstart’s dedicated staff in the DC Metro office provided me with opportunities to learn something new everyday, and I am so thankful to have worked for such an amazing and inspirational organization this summer.

Of course, my day was never complete without three long, yet interesting, hours of class every night as well.  The two required courses, Ethics and Values of Philanthropy and Voluntary Associations and Democracy, enhanced my already strong commitment to serving others by putting my voluntary passions within the contexts of philosophy, economics, and political theory.  Along with this, TFAS has provided me and my peers with endless professional and historically-meaningful opportunities throughout the summer.  A few of these highlights include White House, Capitol, and State Department tours, along with embassy visits, site briefings at numerous organizations throughout the city, and guest lectures from several experienced and respected professionals within the nonprofit sector.  These experiences have taught me so much and have definitely been a few of the highlights throughout my summer.

Finally, my experience this summer was made truly incredible thanks to my amazing peers in IPVS.  Getting to know all of them, be it through internships, classes, seminars, or just hanging around our apartment complex, has been the most unexpectedly rewarding and meaningful aspect of my summer.  You know a group is truly unique when same people that can challenge you views and ideals on a daily basis are also the same people who can provide you with shoulders to cry on, and can make you laugh until you cry.  I want to thank all of my friends for the endless memories, lessons, and inspiration they bestowed upon me.  I have never in my life been more proud to call myself a part of something, and I know that my experiences this summer would have been nothing if it were not for all of them.

While returning home after a long and exhausting, yet amazing, eight weeks here will surely be a welcomed change for most of my friends and I, there is no doubt in my mind that I will be leaving a piece of myself here in DC.  At the same time, however, I will also be taking a piece of DC with me as I depart.  Washington will be with me in the lessons I have learned, the friendships that I have cultivated, and the memories I have made this summer, but, most importantly, DC will be with me in all my future efforts to be the difference in the world around me.

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