On the first Monday of the fall semester this year, Camaley Jennings got an email from the White House. The message informed her that needed to be in Washington, D.C. by the following Friday if she wanted the internship she’d spent months interviewing for.
“When I got the email, I immediately went to the Dean’s Office and withdrew from my classes,” Jennings said. “Thankfully she let me get my deposit back.”
She drove to D.C. that Thursday and spent the next four months working in one of the most fast-paced workplaces imaginable.
Jennings’ long journey to the White House started in Phoenix in 2008. When she was still in high school, she started the nonprofit Fresh Foundations. The charity worked with the community to get donations of new underwear, bras, socks and shirts and distribute them to over 3,000 women and children annually. The experience marked her first foray into public service.
When it came time for college, Jennings decided to apply to NYU because she said she wanted to be part of something larger.
“I wanted to be part of New York because it was a globally centered place and it had the opportunity and experience I wanted,” Jennings said.
Jennings, now a Steinhardt senior, wasted little time after arriving at NYU. She got involved as an admissions ambassador, a resident assistant and a member of Steinhardt Student Government. The people she worked with, including Steinhardt Student President Joseph Gery, said she also wasted little time showing she was dedicated and enthusiastic.
“She works seemingly without effort, and yet the product is always outstanding,” Gery said. “It has been my pleasure to know and work with her over the past three years, and I can’t wait to see what she will accomplish.”
In her sophomore year, Jennings said she unexpectedly discovered an interest in politics. Over the summer, she decided to apply for an internship at the office of Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. Much to her surprise, she got the job.
“Working at the mayor’s office in Phoenix, I learned that all politics are local,” Jennings said. “I was inspired by the diverse constituency and their concerns.”
After working for Stanton, Jennings interned at two nonprofits — the Clinton Global Initiative in her junior year and Charity Water the summer before her senior year. At Charity Water, an organization that provides fresh water for people in developing countries, her initially laidback, part-time job quickly turned into an associate position with a nine-to-five work day and trips across the state with the company’s CEO.
Jennings said she appreciated the job’s structure — the highlight, however, was helping others. As a corporate partnership assistant, Jennings managed major client relationships and major fundraising events, a role she believed was important.
“I would like to be doing something in service that actually makes a difference in people’s lives,” said Jennings. “I don’t want to do something that has no impact.”
Back at school for her senior year, Jennings was plagued with uncertainty. The previous April, she had filled out an extensive application to intern at the White House, but it wasn’t until June that she was contacted to fill out a security form that officially placed her on the wait list. Despite a final interview in August, Jennings was almost certain she had not been selected until she heard back in September.
Jennings arrived at the White House on Sept. 4, 2014 and immediately began working. She was responsible for drafting memos, creating talking points and scheduling appointments. She said the job was so draining that she would fall asleep the moment she returned to her apartment, but that being in the White House gave her a sense of purpose she had not felt before.
“I had never made so many mistakes before and I was constantly stressing over whether or not I sent that email to whomever,” Jennings said. “I loved working with people who were so determined. I have a new appreciation for the people who make government work, regardless of political affiliation.”
After having such a fulfilling and exhausting experience, Jennings said she is focused on relaxing and enjoying her last semester at NYU.
“It was a difficult job and I think I’m going to take a break from politics for a while, but that will always be a part of who I am,” Jennings said.
She added that for now, she is prioritizing the most pressing matter in her life — the third season of “House of Cards.” No matter what she decides to do after graduation, she said her experiences so far have shown her how to push forward.
“You can’t be afraid to take an opportunity.” Jennings said. “Go with the flow and if something interesting presents itself, it is on you not to let it slip away.”
• Kyle Luther