by Page Austin, Harvest Lifestyle Manager
Not an ordinary internship.
I was a young 22 year old from New Orleans who got an opportunity of a lifetime, a White House internship. My internship started in August of 2001, in Karl Rove's Political Affairs Office. It was a very busy place to be and required long hours. Interns were really like staff assistants due to the tremendous work load. I supported the director of the southern region of country (from Florida all the way to New Mexico). My day started at 6:30am where I would read all the major newspapers across the southern states so that I could update each state's political briefing paper. When President Bush would travel to one of our states, he would receive a political briefing paper that included information about all of the state's political leaders, major issues in the state, and campaign information.
President Bush and my boss traveled to Sarasota, Florida on September 11, 2001. I got to the White House at around 6am to finalize events that the President would attend that day. As I was working, I noticed the news coverage of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. I couldn't believe it! Not knowing how that would effect the President's schedule, I kept working on his events for that day. I got a call from Karl Rove who said "America is under attack, evacuate the White House." As we were grabbing our bags, we felt a powerful jolt. All I could think was that the White House had been hit. We ran out to the balcony of the Old Executive Office Building and saw the billowing smoke rising up from the Pentagon. I couldn't believe we felt that! We were all terrified and thought the White House was next. We ran out of the White House gates down Pennsylvania Avenue. We got about four blocks when were heard that the World Trade Center had collapsed. The interns and staff circled up and just started praying and crying. We were scared and didn't know what to do. Our phones didn't work so we couldn't get in touch with our families back home. We all lived in a dorm right across from the Capitol Building. We were afraid to go home in fear that the Capitol would be attacked so we walked to Georgetown. We found an open pub and gathered around the television to watch the horrific scenes that unfolded that morning. I will never forget seeing people jumping from the towers. I couldn't comprehend what was going on, it just seemed unreal. After several hours, we headed back to our dorm. I spent hours journaling, praying, and talking with others about what happened.
Late that night, I found out that we were supposed to go back to work. I was so scared. Security was really tight and the White House had a four block restriction. We were escorted in a hummer with guys and big guns. That week we had several bomb threats. It was almost becoming normal to have to grab your bag and run out the door. I remember talking to my dad who wanted to drive up to DC and bring me home. I insisted on staying. I knew this would be a defining moment for our country and for President Bush's Administration and I wanted to be apart of it. I can't tell you how proud I am to be an American and to have served this country in President Bush's Administration.
One morning I was checking in and the Secret Service agent told me to go get coffee. I said thank you for the suggestion but I don't drink coffee. He was persistent and so I agreed. As I made my way to the cafeteria, I saw President Bush standing at the door shaking hands and thanking his staff for their dedication to serve the American people. This was the first time I got to meet the President. What I remember most was how grateful he was for the staff who would put their lives in danger to work in a place that is a target in order to make our country better. I have so much admiration for him and his wife. Working with them for more than six years, I have seen how they care for people and want to make not just America better, but the world a better place.