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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Friday, November 07, 2008

“Pinch, me please!”

November 2008

The Archer Program in Washington, DC: An Unbelievable Experience

That thought has been running through my mind on a periodic basis for about two months now. It ran through my mind when I drove up to the Archer House on Constitution Avenue, one block away from where I work—at the Supreme Court of the United States. It ran through my mind the first day I walked into the courtroom of “the Highest Court in the Land,” a place I would later enter at least once a day to give lectures about the Court to the public. It ran through my mind on October 6, when I got to sit in on the first oral argument of the 2008 Term, and when I got to see the Robing Room where all the Justices pass before court sessions. It ran through my mind when I brushed past Justice Kennedy in the hallway; when I met and spoke to Chief Justice Roberts for a few brief minutes; when I met my role model, retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; when I gave a tour to Supreme Court Justices from Guanajuato, Mexico (and spoke a little Spanish with them!); when I got to meet Supreme Court Justices from Ireland; and when I spent some after-hours time giving a tour for Renee Fleming, one of the premier opera singers of our time.

It seems that in this city that phrase will not stop running through my mind—ever! Whether I am awed at my proximity to the fascinating dealings of the Supreme Court, or the President of the United States is holding an event a few blocks away, or legislation like the Bailout Bill is being debated just across the street, or it is Election Day for a hugely historic race for which I am present in the capital of our country, I keep wondering whether I really might be having a very long and involved dream after all.

As you can probably tell, I love my life in Washington, DC as an Archer Fellow. As an Archer, I get to live in one of two houses with other students from all over Texas, take classes with those Fellows, and pursue the internship of my choice for four months.

The internship of my choice is in the Office of the Curator in the Supreme Court of the United States. It is absolutely stunning to go to work everyday in a building where the
most paramount judicial work in the nation is taking place constantly. As part of my job, I get to give private tours to guests of the Justices or employees of the Court (including foreign dignitaries that come to be briefed on our judicial system by the Supreme Court Fellow). I also get to speak to groups of up to 200 members of the public about the history and structure of the Court in the very courtroom where it all takes place. Of course there are some phone and information desk responsibilities involved, but those are minimal and my boss tries very hard to decrease the amount of typical intern responsibilities I have. The perks of my job include roaming around the marble hallways and red-carpeted floors of the Supreme Court, occasionally interacting with Justices, and getting to sit in on oral arguments pretty frequently, among other things.

Two nights a week after work I go to classes where I get to meet leaders of Washington who explain the political process in a way I would never get to experience elsewhere. I am challenged on my views of politics and democracy by my instructors and my peers, who all thankfully have a wide range of viewpoints. Needless to say, political discussion never gets boring among the Archers! They are kind, fun, smart people who truly care about the welfare of America and give me a lot of hope for the future of our nation. By some fluke of nature, we all get along wonderfully! I am certain I will make some lifetime friends here.

When I’m not in class or at work, I get to roam about and explore DC and the surrounding area. I saw my first real autumn in the leaves of the Shenandoah Valley when other Archers and I rented a car and drove to small-town Virginia for a day. I got to campaign in Virginia for the presidential election. I took a trip to New York and saw Broadway, Times Square, and the sweeping view of a breathtaking city from the Empire State Building at night. Life is certainly good here!

Although DC itself is a whirlwind of activity, my favorite experience thus far was meeting Sandra Day O’Connor. As I said, she’s basically my idol. I met her while giving a tour to some friends of hers from Arizona. She made me feel right at home. Her manner was all courtesy and warmth as she put her hand on my shoulder and showed her friends and me some pictures and paintings from Arizona. I sensed the Southwestern, down-to-earth, no nonsense personality in her that I know so well from my childhood in El Paso, Texas. I even got to tell her about my origins, to which she said, "Oh, I was born and raised in El Paso! Did you know that?" And I said, "Actually, yes I did! I wrote an essay about you for a scholarship I received." (The McDermott Scholarship, by the way!)

It was a mind-boggling encounter. I was wandering in a dream for the rest of the day! But that’s just DC. The nation’s capital is exciting, thriving, almost psychotically driven, and exploding with culture. Overall, it is a wonderful place to spend a semester!