Jazmin Kay, Woodstock teen, talks about her time in the Obama White House

Jazmin Kay, you know where.

A Woodstock teen is making a splash in politics and public service. Jazmin Kay, age 19, just completed an internship at the White House, where she worked in the Office of Digital Strategy.

Kay was an 18-year-old freshman at George Washington University when she applied for the internship opportunity. The White House internship program, which is full time (9 a.m.–6 p.m., five days a week) and one semester long, is highly competitive — only about one hundred interns are selected out of thousands of applicants. According to Kay, she applied without much thought for her young age. “Most people who are there go after their Masters or as seniors, but I believed a lot in President Obama and wanted to at least give it a try. I remember sitting on my campus and writing something about how much I thought government can actually do for positive change,” she said.

Kay’s interest in public service can be traced back to childhood. “Both my parents work in the non-profit and social change sector, so my mom works on women’s issues and my dad works on the environment. When I was little I wrote these little books about world problems. When I thought about what I wanted to do ‘when I grew up,’ it was always that I wanted to help as many people as possible, and that was always how I thought of it. I thought anything else would be kind of selfish,” she said.

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Despite this long-time passion for helping people and creating change, Kay did not always know through which path she wished to pursue this interest. “I had this moment in high school, when I was at the Woodstock Day School, and I realized that while a lot of people think of government as something that detracts, it’s actually such a great avenue to potentially bring forth change, and we need people that are passionate about progress to be there,” she said. Following this realization, Kay decided to pursue a degree in political science. “There was a time when I visited George Washington University, which is three blocks away from the White House. I sat outside with my mom on the steps, and was like, ‘Maybe one day I’ll be able to walk through those doors.’”

‘One day’ came sooner than she expected. “I was 18 when I applied — I was the youngest intern,” Kay recalled. She began the internship in late August of 2016 for the fall 2016 semester. Since it was a full-time position, she registered for one night class at GWU in order to stay enrolled at the school while dedicating the bulk of her time and energy to the internship. As a member of the first-ever Office of Digital Strategy team, which was comprised of four other interns, she was largely responsible for the White House’s social media presence. This office was created recently, since social media essentially did not exist during past administrations. “We were able to draft all of the tweets for the President and the White House, as well as the Facebook posts; the funniest one was the Snapchat,” said Kay.

Additionally, she was able to pursue another passion: writing. “I worked as the Content and Engagement intern, so in that capacity I wrote for the White House blog. I was able to write about women and girls’ policy, and I got to write something for International Day of Persons with Disabilities, where I got to interview someone from the State Department, which was also a really great opportunity,” she said.

In addition to working in the Office of Digital Strategy, Kay and the other interns attended leadership panels and learned about everything from composing a resume to running for office in their home communities. She also attended the first SXSL (South by South Lawn) Festival and got to work on some of President Obama’s legacy content. “It’s [Obama’s] final months…It was super bittersweet but such a unique time in history to be there,” said Kay.

Apart from the hands-on work she was doing, Kay was struck by a powerful realization during her time at the White House. “There’s a lot of misconceptions about what government is. I think there’s a lot of cynicism generally. Being there, it was so abundantly clear to me every day that the people there were actually there because they care and they wanted to make a positive difference, and they were continually grounded by the people,” she said. Through working alongside both her fellow interns, as well as senior White House officials, including the President, the First Lady, and the Vice President, Kay added, “You always want to believe that these people have such good intentions, and being able to be with them, it was so clear that they were there because they believed so much in the power that government has to make positive change amongst the people who need it most.”

Kay’s role as an intern also aligned with her passion for young people and her belief in their roles as leaders and change-makers. “I think that our generation is such a centerfold of where we can go to move forward. So many young people are energized but don’t know how to take all their passion and…capitalize on that energy and move it forward,” she said. Kay cited the White House’s social media presence as a place in which young people and politics intersect, adding, “It’s a really powerful platform because that’s where [young people] are already.”

She warned, however, against social media becoming the only type of activism in which young people take part. “Social media can often become an echo chamber of the same ideas. It can fabricate this idea of pseudo-activism — like you’re doing something just by posting, stuff like that. Social media should absolutely be a tool to put your voice out there and to get involved in the conversation, but it can’t be all you do,” said Kay.

Now a sophomore, Kay plans on continuing along the path of public service. “I’ve always been led by what I’m passionate about and what interests me at the time. Right now, one of the things I’m most passionate about is equipping young people with the tools to go out and create change. I also want to make it so our representative bodies are more reflective of our democracy,” she said. By doing this, she hopes to make government, and by extension, change, feel less distant to the American people. “The power to create change is such a tangible thing if you go out and make sure it’s as accessible to people as possible,” said Kay.

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