Despite a congressional approval rating of 14 percent, senior Alezeh Rauf feels optimistic after a summer internship on Capitol Hill.
“I have gained so much hope for the American people,” Rauf said. “Before working in the Capitol for five weeks, I was pretty skeptical about the government and disheartened about the state of American politics, but being in D.C. opened my eyes to how incredibly hard politicians work.”
Rauf’s journey towards Washington, D.C. began the summer before her freshman year.
“I’ve been interested in the legal system since I was young, but at 14, I was too young to intern at a law firm,” she said. “Through the recommendation of a family friend, I met Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.”
Lee, a senior Democratic congresswoman, has served the 18th congressional district of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1995.
Rauf shares a passion for children’s rights in the Middle East with the congresswoman; in 2012, Rauf published a Urdu-English children’s book and is currently working on more stories with the goal of educating Pakistani children. After an interview, she was offered an internship at the congresswoman’s satellite office in the Houston Heights.
Climbing through the ranks of Lee’s staff, Rauf rose from performing tiresome intern tasks such as entering data, writing proclamations and attending consulate receptions.
“The summer before my junior year, I moved into the congresswoman’s downtown office,” Rauf said. “The job immediately became high stress because I had to deal with her hard deadlines on cases and risked letting down people in the district who would lose their homes if I couldn’t get the job done.”
After spending the past three summers working with the congresswoman in Houston, Rauf was thrown into a completely different work environment when she was given the opportunity to work with Lee in D.C.
“Working in D.C. was a huge shift. I moved from working with individuals in the district to handling legislative issues in Congress,” Rauf said. “I worked 11-hour days and had never been more tired in my life, but I loved it.”
At age 17, Rauf faced unique challenges as one of the youngest interns on Capitol Hill.
“Some of the congresswoman’s other staffers were concerned because I was still in high school and were reluctant to let me help with projects, but I started working without their prompting and eventually won respect,” Rauf said.
On a typical day, Rauf would head to the Capitol at eight in the morning to choose a project that piqued her interest from the congresswoman’s agenda. She attended numerous congressional hearings and performed research tasks.
“I attended a foreign affairs hearing on human rights in Sudan where civil rights workers testified about the atrocities they’d seen abroad and held up against difficult questioning from their opponents,” Rauf said. “Because I was an intern, I sat with congressmen on a dais rather than in the audience.”
Rauf’s largest project involved a bill that the congresswoman was trying to put together covering human trafficking.
“I jumped on the issue and did a lot of research for a presentation so that she would have her facts straight when she presented the bill to the entirety of congress,” Rauf said.
In conjunction, she helped to organize a round-table discussion about human trafficking that would include big-name celebrities.
“I contacted the publicists of Oprah, Angelina Jolie and Ludacris, to name a few, to invite them to a discussion in September,” she said. “I never expected to be trusted with so much responsibility – it was surreal.”
In her free time, Rauf frequented D.C.’s vast collection of museums.
“My favorite museum is the Newseum by far. I spent an entire day there and only got through half of the exhibits,” she said.
The experience of working in DC changed Rauf’s outlook on politics. Rauf now hopes to work in politics in the future.
“I had the opportunity to grow as an intern,” Rauf said. “I am now more motivated and passionate about what I do.”