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Episodes from The East Wing

Three months into his co-​​op with the Office of the First Lady Michelle Obama last fall, Klevis Xharda stood in a reception hall filled with dozens of past recip­i­ents of the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Freedom. Here were baseball legend Hank Aaron, feminist-​​activist Gloria Steinem, micro­fi­nance pioneer Muhammed Yunus, Pres­i­dent Bill Clinton, members of the Kennedy family—to Xharda, SSH’14, “some of the greatest and most rev­o­lu­tionary figures in modern history.”

As Pres­i­dent Barack Obama paid tribute to two 50-​​year anniversaries—of both the medal and the death of its founder, Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy—Xharda, assigned to staff the event, was struck by the guests’ warmth and humility. “If I’ve learned one thing from this internship,” he says now, “it’s that the people who seem untouchable on TV are so human”—gracious, humble, normal—“when you’re in the same room with them.

“There is something comforting in this realization.”

As one of roughly 6,000 appli­cants for more than 100 spots, Xharda had scores of occa­sions to interact with White House guests and senior staff as one of three stu­dent interns reporting to Social Sec­re­tary of the United States Jeremy Bernard. “If these deeply human men and women can accomplish great things,” Xharda says, “there’s a chance for the rest of us to make a difference.”

It was a heady expe­ri­ence for this native Albanian, who as a tod­dler ran bare­foot through crum­bling city blocks before fleeing the country for the U.S. with his family in 1998. For 16 weeks between Sep­tember and December, Xharda, a fourth-​​year polit­ical sci­ence and inter­na­tional affairs com­bined major, coor­di­nated events hosted by the pres­i­dent and first lady, from the Kennedy Center Honors to a sym­po­sium at which A-​​list actors taught film­making basics to public high school students.

Often working past midnight, Xharda says he relished his respon­si­bil­i­ties and the camaraderie among his colleagues. Among many “unfor­get­table” oppor­tu­ni­ties were reg­ular brown-​​bag lunches with senior staff and a Q-​​and-​​A with Michelle Obama on her child­hood obe­sity ini­tia­tive, among other topics. And, oh—a hand­shake from the pres­i­dent himself.

“We were assigned tasks to exe­cute as we saw fit, but we had plenty of sup­port,” says Xharda. “We were empowered to do our jobs, motivated by others’ con­fi­dence and trust.”

Xharda’s biggest assign­ment: To iden­tify and schedule musical per­for­mances by groups across the country for the First Family and guests at 18 hol­iday recep­tions. While some, like The Gay Men’s Chorus, were well known, most were “ordinary people,” college students, children, and senior cit­i­zens. Among them were the Nor’easters, Northeastern’s award-​​winning a cap­pella group.

Xharda is grateful for sup­port he received from the John Elfers Memo­rial Schol­ar­ship Fund and for gifts from parents and alumni who are making more unpaid co-​​ops like his possible. “You develop a level of humility and dedication through public service,” he says. On the heels of his expe­ri­ence, he notes, “I’m also a lot more ambitious now.”

“All my life I’ve been inter­ested in for­eign policy and secu­rity, but the White House made me think: ‘O.K. Now, how can I top this?’”

“I’m inter­ested in gov­ern­ment, but I’m also inter­ested in inno­vating,” he says. “I realize I have options, and I want to explore them before aiming for grad school.”

– By Northeastern News

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