When I first found out I’d be working on the Obama campaign, I was purposefully playing a fourth or fifth round of FIFA to avoid thinking about my future. After returning to Duke last spring from studying abroad in Paris, I’d been drifting aimlessly from classes to parties to the same dorm-room couch I could always count on to envelop me while I put off confronting the paralysis I encountered whenever I tried to get my shit together.
Much to the concern of my parents— who’d continually warned me not to put all my eggs in one basket—and the friends I continually reassured that “everything would work out,” the Obama campaign was the only internship to which I applied. While my fellow classmates were busy submitting resumes and constantly stressing about various case studies and rounds of interviews, I refused to give myself other options. And then, one night in late April, just when it was beginning to look as though the campaign wasn’t going to get back to me at all, I saw an email from “Obama for America” pop up on my phone. I paused the FIFA game and opened my email.“Congratulations,” it said. “Welcome to the campaign.”
Three weeks later, I was off to Chicago with a suitcase full of hastily-packed clothes and a sense of incredible possibility. I’d always harbored the vague notion that I wanted to “make a difference,” to be a part of something bigger than myself, to help fight for something I believed in—but mostly, I yearned to do something that mattered, something urgent and important, something I knew was worth doing.
My first day was a whirlwind. I knew I was to join the rapid response team within the digital department, and I had a feeling I’d be working with social media. Other than that, all I knew was that I wanted to work as hard as I could to help President Obama get re-elected.
After briefly introducing himself, my boss took me aside and offered me a lasting piece of advice that set the tone for the rest of my time on the campaign: “We’re really happy to have you,” he said. “Don’t fuck it up.”
The stakes were high and the days were long. There was a lot to learn and very little margin for error. As the summer progressed, and I began taking on more responsibility—gradually assuming a role as a writer who could quickly and efficiently defend the President’s record, fact-check the opposition and crystallize the choice in the election—the campaign slowly became all-consuming. I began getting to work earlier and leaving later. At the end of July, I decided to fully commit myself to the effort. I told my boss that I wanted to take a semester off and stay on through the election—he nodded and smiled. Two weeks later, I was hired on staff.
And that’s when my personal life began to slowly evaporate. Ego, health, sex, fitness—they all took a backseat to a singular objective. Gone was the five-day work-week of the internship. This was a sprint to the finish, and that meant spending almost every waking hour at the office and adopting a lifestyle in which I lived and breathed politics.
Throughout the conventions, the debates and the crazy ups and downs of a ferocious, Twitter-fueled news cycle, I was constantly surrounded and buoyed by some of the smartest, most talented people I’ve ever met. And though our jobs, ages and backgrounds varied tremendously, we were united by common purpose and uncommon sacrifice. While I was only giving up half my senior year, there were staffers who’d been on the campaign for almost two years—men and women who’d turned down lucrative jobs to move into shitty studio apartments and put in insane hours. They let personal relationships fall by the wayside in favor of working for one man and what his re-election would mean for the future of our country.
As the campaign wore on, the gravity of what we were doing grew increasingly apparent. The election presented Americans with a clear choice between two fundamentally different visions of America and the people who call our country home—and each day I felt as though I was unequivocally on the right side of the battle to persuade swing voters and turn out our supporters. For the first time, I felt profoundly fulfilled by the work I was doing on a day-to-day basis. And even though I was chronically sleep-deprived, I knew it’d all be worth it if we won. The rest is history. On Nov. 6th, President Obama was re-elected with 332 electoral votes. The next day, he stopped by the office. To hear him express his heartfelt gratitude for the work we’d done—and watch him get choked up as he shared his pride in what we’d accomplished—was perhaps the most surreal, moving and inspiring moment of my entire life. It was us, he said, who gave him hope for the future.
I’m honored to have been a part of this moment in history, and I’ll forever cherish the privilege of working alongside and learning from such a talented amd passionate group of people. I leave Chicago feeling energized and hopeful about the future—and I look forward to rejoining the Duke community.
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