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Union junior experiences politics, fast-paced life as D.C. intern

Clayton Sanderson works at his desk in the State Department's Office of White House Liaison.
Clayton Sanderson works at his desk in the State Department's Office of White House Liaison.

WASHINGTONJuly 25, 2005 – Clayton Sanderson came to the nation’s capital in January to learn about foreign policy and ended up learning a lesson about life from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Sanderson and about 100 other U.S. State Department interns were singled out for words of encouragement from Rice in mid-April.

“The most important thing I think she said was not to be too focused on the future,” Sanderson said. “With five- or 10-year plans we become so focused on the end goal sometimes we miss ‘life’s off ramps’ and pass up something that would have exceeded our original expectations.”

Sanderson, who is doing an independent study on foreign policy, is a junior political science major at Union University. He interns at the Office of White House Liaison as part of the department’s Stay-in-School intern program from January through May and was asked to stay through August. The program allows Sanderson to work as a full-time employee and a part-time student.

In his six-person office, Sanderson serves as the front line for all incoming calls, including those from ambassadors and White House personnel. He also assists with office scheduling and research.

“We spend a majority of our time assisting the White House with personnel decisions in the State Department, although we assist with many other issues as well,” he said. “The personnel that we help bring to the department become the eyes and ears of the President.”

He is one of only five interns from Tennessee, and one of only two from West Tennessee out of the 1,000 projected interns who will work this year in the department, said Kevin Bennecoff, information technology specialist for the State Department.

“It’s not easy to dive into a highly demanding professional work environment as a college student,” said Andrea McDaniel, deputy White House liaison and former Parker’s Crossroads, Tenn., resident. “Clayton has shown extraordinary skill in adapting quickly and performing his responsibilities with skill and a strong positive attitude. I think that’s maybe what sets him apart from his peers -- his positive, can-do attitude.”

Sanderson was chosen after Kevin Cooney, associate professor of political science at Union University, informed him the opening was available. After he applied, Sanderson had to go through a series of interviews before he was accepted.

“What Clayton is doing with his experience is being a participant observer, someone who is part of the system while learning the system at the same time,” Cooney said. “If he were doing the same readings here, they would be much more difficult. But because of his internship experience the readings are coming to life, and the relevance of them is becoming much more serious.”

Until recently moving into less-crowded quarters, Sanderson lived in Washington student housing with nine other interns, all of whom work for a wide variety of political interests. One of Sanderson’s first memories in the city was sitting at the breakfast table on Inauguration Day with three of his roommates. While Sanderson anticipated the day’s events, his roommates, who were interning with Green Peace, sat across from him constructing anti-Bush signs for a protest at the ceremony.

Although driven people are the trademark of Washington, Sanderson learned the city does know how to play. He relaxes by joining in a lively game of softball on the National Mall as a member of Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office softball team.

He also said he carves out time for a trip to the movie theater two or three times a month and to meet with friends from his church, Capitol Hill Baptist.

Sanderson said he would not trade a minute of his time in the nation’s capital, but he cannot help feeling a little homesick.

“I think I miss it a little more everyday,” he said. “There are things like sweet tea and home cooking that are missed. But more than that, I miss the way of life we lead. It is calmer – people are not in such a hurry. Here I don’t think people take time to appreciate life. In Tennessee, we do.”

Although he is undecided on a specific political career after graduation, Sanderson said he is sure he wants to remain an active part of the West Tennessee community.

“In the future I hope to serve West Tennesseans as a public official,” Sanderson said. “I am not sure yet whether that will be at the local, state or national level, but I love Jackson and West Tennessee.”

Jenni Betts ('07)

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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