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Letters to Home: From Coast to Coast

December 9, 2011

by Ariel Katz
Letters to Home: From Coast to Coast

Greetings, Claremont! I am writing from our great nation’s Capitol. Yes, I spelled Capitol correctly (although it took me awhile: quick lesson, capital refers to the capital city, whereas Capitol refers to the building located on the hill). I am currently in the Senate Press Gallery of our congressional headquarters, just a few feet away from the Senate Floor. 

Someone is conked out on the couch to my left, and a woman reporter is loudly talking on the phone about an impending vote. I am surrounded by old versions of Roll Call, CQ, Politico, and The Hill newspapers. I am definitely not in Claremont anymore.

I first arrived in Washington D.C. right after Hurricane Irene, which was not the most welcoming – at least if it was an earthquake I would have felt right at home. My roommates and I decided we wanted to “go out” the Sunday night I got in. We got dressed up, took a few shots of some liquid courage, and headed toward George Washington University’s campus.

The 20-minute walk seemed like it took forever; I don’t think any of us had walked that far since the last Mudd party, and even this was farther. Why weren’t there any parties? Why was no one outside shirtless, playing beer pong? Where were the bros?

After the first few unsuccessful hours (a few of my roommates had to pee in bushes, we learned we couldn’t just wander in to random GW dorms to use the bathroom), we ventured over to the south entrance of the White House and saw the glow from the president’s residence in the middle of the night.

Although Claremont seems to be saturated with Government nerds, living and breathing D.C. culture 24/7 came as a culture shock. I learned the differences between committee hearings and floor proceedings (something I surely should have learned long ago, but it’s better late than never), and I now know the ins and outs of the Capitol building, as well as the meaning of working a 9-5 job (minus the salary aspect).

As an intern at The Hill newspaper, I get to attend hearings (and sometimes write stories on them!), do research for various articles, and cover some events where top officials might be speaking. Since none of the five interns have a specific beat, we do whatever other reporters need or what is assigned to us.

My first hearing, of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, was on “9/11: Are we Safer?” I had no idea what to expect, let alone where to sit. I nervously sat down with the other press at the press table, pulling out my notebook and pen as everyone else pulled out their laptops and recorders.

After a few minutes, the Senators walked in, ready to convene. And in walked Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Right there. Twenty feet away from me. I frantically took notes on my notepad as the other reporters clanked away on their computers (Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) walked in to the hearing late. Was that worth noting? Evidently it’s not, but that first hearing I thought it was).

While my note taking has gotten better, and hearings have certainly become more routine, the excitement hasn’t faded. Being able to walk wherever I want in the Capitol is incredible. My first time here, I nervously skirted around, making eye contact with all of the security guards, waiting for them to yell at me for going somewhere I wasn’t allowed. Now, I walk around purposefully; there is pretty much not a single place in the Capitol the press is not allowed except for the House and Senate floors.

I got to interview Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) for a story, talk to Governors Nikki Haley (R-SC) and Bob McDonnell (R-VA) and ask a question to the Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.

Even though I still have another few days here, even though I wake up at 8 am every morning, even though I spend most of my free time doing homework, I’m already getting nostalgic about leaving.

I recently stalked a friend’s photos from when she was in D.C. last spring (hi Alyssa!) and started to feel sentimental and sad. There was the Washington Monument! I had been there. L’Enfant Metro station, I’d been there too! (although I still don’t know how to pronounce it.)

Still, there are days when I’m here where I’d like nothing more than to be in Claremont, sitting in a Literature class, or hanging out in a North Quad dorm with my friends. There are days when the political environment suffocates me, and I just want to run away from the federal government’s budget problems back to Camp Claremont.

But there are other times – walking out of the Capitol on a beautiful day, smiling at Senator John Kerry (D-MA) as he walks by me or watching Shakespeare’s Othello at the Folger Shakespeare Library – that I realize how much I love this city.

The Capitol will always take my breath away, talking to a congressman will always make my heart skip a beat, and seeing my name as a byline will always give me a thrill. I’m definitely going to miss this city, but I have the rest of my life to pursue these feelings and adventures. D.C., it’s been real, and I’m already mourning our break-up. But it’s going to feel good to go back to Camp Claremont.

Want more Letters to Home? You may also be interested in An Italian Life Worth Living, Checking in From Dharamsala, India, or a Letter From Sienna Italy.

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