Anyone worried about the level of commitment to public service among young Americans can rest easier. At a July 26 event, nearly 2,000 interns sent a loud message that if you’re selling the idea of government service, they are buying—especially if your pitch men are one of America’s fastest rising politicians and one of TV journalism’s biggest stars.
U.S. Senator Barack Obama and NBC News’ Tim Russert headlined the fourth annual Summer Intern Event. With that much star power, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that a full house of interns packed Washington’s Warner Theatre to hear their call to service.
Partnership President Max Stier set the tone for the event, “Now why does it matter that we have an effective federal government,” he asked. “Hurricane Katrina is why it matters, the Iraq war is why it matters, our health care is why it matters, globalization is why it matters, poverty matters, and the list goes on and on and on,” he continued. In their respective remarks, both Senator Obama and Russert built on the theme of why it is so important for today’s college students to consider making their mark through government service.
Known for being Washington’s toughest questioner, Russert revealed a softer side, commenting on the values that he learned growing up in a middle class neighborhood in Buffalo, New York. “Your generation too can be the greatest generation, but it will not unless people understand there’s something more important than just yourself,” Russert exhorted. “It’s your community, your country. It’s the calling of public service. It is a giving of oneself to a common good, a common goal to a community and there is absolutely nothing more fulfilling that you ever embarked upon in your life.”
Senator Obama, who chose the path to public service over the private sector after graduating from Harvard Law School, explained why he thinks he made the right decision. “Our society constantly tells you that the thing that’s most important is the big bank account, a fancy house, a fast car—and yeah all those things are nice, but in the end it signifies a poverty of ambition. I tell you that not to try to guilt trip you; it’s not just because we have a debt to the people who helped make your life a little bit better—although I think you do have that debt—not just to give an obligation to people who are less fortunate—although I do think you have an obligation—but it’s actually because I think you have an obligation to yourself,” Obama said. “You know, the people I know who are satisfied in their lives, who feel good have somehow hitched their life up to something larger than themselves, that’s how they fulfill their potential.”
After delivering their remarks, Russert interviewed Senator Obama in town hall format, which was concluded by Senator Obama taking additional questions from the audience on topics ranging from the rise of partisanship, mandatory public service and the Senator’s presidential prospects.
The Partnership began hosting this annual intern event in 2002, and each year has capitalized on the influx of ambitious college students and young professionals who spend their summer getting a taste of the working life by interning in D.C.
The attendees at this year’s town hall forum hailed from 47 different states, and represented a wide swath of more than 550 different employers in the nonprofit, federal and private sectors. The majority of the interns stayed on after the forum to network with recruiters from more than 30 federal agencies ranging from NASA to the Smithsonian to the CIA at a federal career fair.
The one-two punch of the inspirational town hall forum and educational career fair was designed to address one of the greatest barriers government faces in attracting top talent from this next generation: a lack of knowledge about how to link one’s skills and interests to opportunities in federal service.
The Partnership for Public Service is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to revitalize our federal government by inspiring a new generation to serve and by transforming the way government works.