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  • Natasha Menon

WLP 2019 Week 7: The Magic of WLP

With week seven having come to an end, it seems time has really flown by! Through the packed schedule this summer, our cohort was privileged enough to meet extraordinary members of the South Asian community who have forged their own paths and have generously shared what they have learned from their unique journeys. With all that we have learned and experienced, the only word that seems apt to describe the program: magic.

We started out the week by meeting with the current Federal Communications Commission Chairman, Ajit Pai, as well as his most trusted policy advisors. I felt a deep sense of connection to Chairman Pai as he told us about his childhood in rural Kansas, where he found few who looked like him. Growing up in Arizona, I too found myself in a largely white community, attempting to navigate my identity and dealing with experiences of being othered by those who had the best of intentions. The conversation was unexpected in all the best ways as Chairman Pai willed us to move past the highly politicized issues and see the initiatives the FCC is currently developing that are bipartisan, including expanding rural broadband capabilities and helping those with disabilities access technology more easily. We walked away from that meeting pleasantly surprised by Chairman Pai’s genuine curiosity in getting to know our answers to the very questions we posed to him.

The next day, we were given the opportunity to sit down with the incredibly accomplished Seema Nanda, who now serves as the CEO of the Democratic National Committee. In a candid conversation, Seema Nanda explained the importance of being open to new opportunities as they come and trusting those you have built relationships with, which is exactly the mindset that brought her to where she is today. Through her work with Tom Perez, Seema Nanda seamlessly transitioned from the world of policy to the world of politics. I think something we all struggle with in college is letting go of plans and ideas for the future that were concocted in high school and instead allowing our ambitions to grow and change as we do. With each speaker, I have felt more comfortable in diverging from the goals I set for myself so many years ago and trust that life has many surprises in store.

Next came my favorite event of the week, the annual WLP brunch at the Contractors’ house! Being picked up at the metro station by Harin and his son, who was bouncing off the walls with excitement, it was hard not to smile in anticipation of good food and good company. After a round of introductions and heaping hot samosas on our plates, we sat down and began to reflect on our summer. The sounds of laughter filled the room as alumnae of the program who had not seen each other in years embraced- the moment was bittersweet as we realized the summer was coming to an end. However, we were thankfully pulled away from these thoughts, as it was time to head over to Teddy Roosevelt’s Island!

Aparna and I had instantly clicked with our mentor from Desis For Progress, so when he invited the whole cohort to visit Teddy Roosevelt’s Island, we knew it was an adventure we did not want to miss! After a short fifteen minute walk, we were surrounded by wilderness, the sounds of the city hushed. We came across the grand statue of Teddy Roosevelt almost by accident, it seemed to appear out of thin air.

Surrounding the statue was a peaceful memorial, the perfect place to reminisce on our summer and talk about all that we had learned.

This summer has taught me is that life is truly all about building meaningful connections and being open to where those take you. As we begin the final week, we will never forget all that WLP has given us. I’ll be leaving this program with six of my closest friends, the framework for a project that will help to ensure a fair and complete Census count (of course I had to plug #DesiGirlsCount!), and a network of amazing mentors who are willing to do their part in paying it forward. Where else can you find all of that, and more? That truly is, the magic of WLP.

Natasha Menon

University of Pennsylvania

Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

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