I may be a tad obsessed with Obama White House memoirs

So if you’ve been keeping up with the blog, you know that the biggest news in my life recently is my graduation from college. It’s a big, exciting milestone that gave me the celebratory freedom to stay in my pajamas all day, catching up on some reading and drinking all the tea in the world from the comfort of my bed. I definitely earned my fair share of cheese quesadillas from busting my ass to maintain a perfect 4.0 GPA.

I knew the next step for me was building my future (eek!) but I had no idea just how quickly I was going to have to articulate it when I was nominated by my department as a candidate for class valedictorian. I had a couple of days to write a statement of purpose and attend a council interview to highlight where I thought my accomplishments in college might lead me.

I should probably mention here that I have no idea where I’m going or what I’m doing. I have no five-year plan. I have no ten-year plan. All I’ve ever known is that eventually, I want to live somewhere with a big bathtub and a breakfast nook with three large, fluffy dogs.

I’d love to be a journalist. I’d love to be a published author. I’d love to be a speechwriter. I’d love to work with non-profit organizations and help get important stories out into the world. I am incredibly lucky that my work as a writer can take me anywhere and lead me to so many different possible lives. But staring out at 78 forks in the road is not exactly something that a highly-structured person such as myself is comforted by.

So, in my interview for valedictorian, I relied on what I knew best which are all the many things I’m passionate about. I spoke about how the 2016 election and the media surrounding it made me feel that words didn’t matter and how I decided to say “screw that” and channel my hopes and fears into messages that would make a difference. I shared experiences from the storytellers and peacemakers I have encountered over the four years. I talked about the way I discovered I wanted to run head first into the chaotic fight for change rather than sit in a corner and block it out.

Then, one of the members of the council asked me about the last book I read for fun. I said, “‘Yes We (Still) Can,’ by Dan Pfeiffer, one of President Obama’s Communications Directors.” I realized that that might not have sounded like a “just for fun” book considering how seriously I was discussing a potential career in politics. So I added, “Before that, I read ‘So Here’s the Thing’ by Alyssa Mastromonaco,” one of President Obama’s deputy chief of staffs. I laughed and added, “and before that, ‘Yes She Can,’ a compilation of stories about young female staffers who worked in the Obama administration.” Have you noticed a pattern yet?

I ended my response with the fact that I had finally gotten around to starting “Pride and Prejudice” a month ago but the point is that I have been so empowered by the stories of what these staffers accomplished. Apparently, shortly after I was born, my mom wheeled me and my stroller into an elevator (I think that’s how the story goes). A woman came into the elevator and took a look at me and told my mom that, who knew, I could be the next President. It was so easy to laugh that off as impossible and I certainly have no desire to be President or, really to hold any political office, but it certainly is within the realm of possibility that I could work in the White House one day, so why assume my story can’t end like those in the books I have read?

I highly recommend Pfeiffer’s “Yes We (Still) Can” and Mastromonaco’s “So Here’s the Thing” (plus her first book “Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?” which just so happened to make my all-time favorite frequent fascinations), but I really want to focus this post on what an incredible experience it was reading “Yes She Can.” The book was compiled by Molly Dillon and features her and nine other young women’s stories about how they came into their positions in the administration that gave them the opportunity and encouragement to let the new generation be heard.

I love the book’s epigraph, pulled from President Obama’s farewell speech on January 10, 2017, because it so perfectly sums up this spirit:

“This generation coming up–unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic–I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, just, inclusive America. You know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, something not to fear but to embrace, and you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result that the future is in good hands.”

The book features the following women and their stories:

  • Molly Dillon, Policy Assistant for Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity
  • Andrea R. Flores, Policy Assistant for Immigration and Rural Affairs
  • Kalisha Dessources Figures, Policy Advisor in the White House Council on Women and Girls
  • Taylor Lustig, Policy Assistant for White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
  • Vivian P. Graubard, Confidential Assistant and Advisor to the United States Chief Technology Officer
  • Eleanor Celeste, Policy Advisor for Biomedical and Forensic Sciences
  • Nita Contreras, Assistant Staff Secretary
  • Jenna Brayton, Associate Director of Content and Operations
  • Jamie Woo, Policy Analyst in the Office of the Vice President
  • Noemie C. Levy, Policy Assistant for the Domestic Policy Council

Each offer honest, mesmerizing accounts of their most daunting challenges and the satisfaction of impacting the nation as young women. It isn’t glamorous work, made apparent by several anecdotes about sleepless nights and compromises on necessary items or routines, but it’s important work that takes a strong vision and a determined team.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book is the “Girl’s Guide to Getting into Government” which features 16 channels for young women to work and participate in politics with tips and resources to give anyone interested the best game plan for stepping forward. This feature echoes the tone of the rest of the book that seems to say, “any young woman who wants to make a difference should be able to and there shouldn’t be any secrets keeping her out.”

You can imagine the impact this book had on me during my first few steps in building my future. Sure, the odds of my working in the White House someday are still slim, but I’m no longer afraid to try to make a difference in whatever opportunity I find in the coming years. Plus, I’m stoked to continue watching all of the ways kickass, brilliant women channel their talent into social impact.

Sure, the future can be a little scary, but it’s also the most exciting blank page I’ve ever faced. So, screw being scared. I’m ready to make a mark.

xo Elena

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