I have tried to reflect upon the significance of my Fellowship, what it meant to me and what it will mean in my future, and I have come to the conclusion that it may be months before I have any notion.
For this past year, I have loved the challenge of the steep learning curve in an environment where everything was new and different. I loved the availability of voluminous information and the variety of topics I learned about. My casual interest in water policy turned into a significant part of my issue portfolio, and it was actually that area in which I had the greatest influence in the office.
I loved becoming an adopted daughter of Colorado and learning the locations, the issues, and the people. I can’t count the number of times that constituents asked if I was from Colorado and I had to remind myself that technically, I had never lived in that state. Eventually, I felt that I had earned the right to count myself as a Coloradan, and would discuss issues that “we” faced.
Learning how the government does or does not work gave me a greater appreciation for my own rights and responsibilities as a citizen. I know that I have a right to meeting with the staffs of my Senators and Representative, and that it is my responsibility to let them know how I feel about issues that are important to me. I also understand some of the work required to create a common goal and to move forward. Likewise I appreciate that some people are unlikely ever to get on board.
When I started in the Senator’s office, I had a laundry list of experiences I wanted to have. Some of them happened (going out onto the floor, helping to prepare a briefing, managing a bill), and some of them didn’t (staffing the Senator in a hearing, writing a piece of legislation.) Some opportunities came and were completely unexpected (working with the regional staff at the Army Corps of Engineers on coordinating several water projects), but I tried to leap at every chance that I had. In improvisation, the rule is to always say yes. I said yes as often as possible during my fellowship.
I was determined to get as much mileage out of my Senate staff ID as I could, so although I rarely had business in the Capitol, I enjoyed going for walks to stretch my legs. Knowing that I wanted to show friends and family around the Capitol when they visited, I studied up on the history and stories of Capitol Hill, which meant that I thought about those stories every time I passed through. I especially loved knowing how to navigate through the labyrinth of tunnels connecting the buildings, and I wandered through those as often as possible. Twice I took advantage of my Library of Congress reader’s card and spent several hours working in the Main Reading Room, which was delightful. I can also take credit for starting the Fellows on a campaign of setting up tours behind the scenes of DC establishments such as the Smithsonians or the Senate Majority Leader’s office. Our class is convinced that we set a new standard for leveraging unusual events.
Unlike the majority of my fellow Fellows, I knew that I was returning home after a year, which did influence how I spent my time. I sought out experiences that were different or extraordinary rather than the standard circuit of Smithsonians. I tried to live like a native and attend events such as the Post Hunt or Christmas tea at the Willard Hotel as well as the White House fall and spring garden tours and the White House Christmas tour. I made sure to go out, to see, to do. I probably wined and dined less than an average DC native, but I think I had more adventures. I cherished the opportunity of walking the Mall whenever I wanted and learning that each time I found a different memorial that held special meaning on that day. I loved the luxury of walking behind the White House whenever I was in the area, simply because I could. After an entire year, I never lost the joy of my daily walk heading toward the Capitol dome and realizing that I had the privilege of working there.
Some of you have heard me say that in the first several months of my fellowship, I decided that courage was a habit. I had to learn so much so quickly and I have had to accomplish tasks for which I had little idea of how to begin that doing something new is far less intimidating than it used to be. I have less need to know everything before I start on a new project, task, outing, or adventure; I’m confident that I’ll figure it out as I go.
I could not have done a year in DC without the unflagging support of my Beloved Husband, who held down the fort at home. I am so glad that he made an effort to join me for special events such as the Inauguration as well as quite a few opportunities to explore the soft underbelly of the Capitol where even many staffers don’t go. His favorite memory of this year in DC was the night of Memorial Day concert, which we watched from the balcony of the Capitol. Just before the end of the concert, my BH wandered off and ended up in the Rotunda entirely alone. Having navigated through many a crowd of tourists, that solitude in a magnificent space was one of his most marvelous privileges.
I expanded into entirely new areas of science and nature, met wonderful people, reveled in nerdiness, made lifelong friendships, and had amazing adventures. My fellowship was everything I had hoped for and so much more. My world has gotten bigger. I’ve loved these days.