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Student's White House Internship Is Once-In-A-Lifetime Opportunity

He didn't make a cent. But Old Dominion University senior Ryan Kelly says his experience as a White House intern was worth a million dollars.

Kelly is back at school this semester, finishing his English degree, with an emphasis on journalism. Last year at this time, he was one of 90 young men and women from across the country working long hours in the White House press office.

The work could be a little unglamorous. Kelly handed out water bottles to guests who attended Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the White House for example, and he did a lot of answering phones, filing and filling envelopes.

However, the Springfield, Va., native wouldn't trade his experience for anything.

"It was an unbelievable opportunity. I know how fortunate I am," Kelly says.

How many people get to attend weekly talks with people like the president and Supreme Court chief justice?

"(Chief Justice John Roberts) came in and spoke to us in the Supreme Court hearing room. I don't think a lot of people get to participate in that," Kelly says.

Kelly went into journalism in the hopes of becoming a sportswriter. He worked for the Mace & Crown, covering women's field hockey, then women's basketball, then the ODU men's team. He went to Buffalo, N.Y., in March 2007, to cover the Monarchs' most recent trip to the NCAA basketball tournament.

"I got to ask Coach K (Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski) a question in a press conference. I met (University of Maryland coach) Gary Williams. I saw (then-freshman Davidson College guard) Stephen Curry have his first big tournament game. It was great," Kelly says.

But Kelly found himself pulled more and more in the direction of politics as his journalistic interest. There was a family connection that helped with that transition.

"My grandmother was (long-time Rep.) Henry Hyde's (R-Ill.) executive assistant for all 36 years he was in Washington," Kelly says. He actually helped pack up the conservative giant's boxes as he was leaving Capitol Hill in 2006.

The contacts he made have helped Kelly get internships every summer in Washington, starting in Hyde's office in 2005, then interning with Hyde's Foreign Relations Committee in 2006.

After the Democrats gained control of both houses of Congress in the mid-term elections of 2006, Kelly worked as an intern with the head Republican on the same committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

Still, the thought of working as a White House intern almost didn't occur to Kelly. He pulled together an application for the winter-spring session of last year, submitting it the last day it was due.

"One day in the fall, I was getting ready to go outside and play football. It was a nice October day. And I got a call from the White House press office, saying they wanted to do an interview. I did it right then," Kelly says.

He must have done all right, because three months later, he was one of 90 interns being shown his work space in the White House.

Many people would be jealous of the opportunities Kelly has received. Until they hear his compensation for all this work. Zero dollars.

"These internships are never paid, but it's such a great opportunity. It was totally worth it," he says. "I was just lucky I could live at home and take the Metro in every day."

Kelly considers himself Republican leaning. He volunteered for John McCain's election campaign immediately after finishing his internship. But he says working as a White House press office intern didn't have anything to do with politics.

"I made a lot of friends. I have a good friend for life among the interns I worked with. And I learned a lot about the country from my fellow interns," he says.

Now, like many of his fellow graduates-to-be, Kelly just has to find a job. He hopes that listing "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" as the address of his last "employer" might help get his foot in the door.

This article was posted on: February 3, 2009

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