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WLP 2020 Week 8: A New Beginning: Paying it Forward

Krithika Shamanna - Rice University, Class of 2022, Department of Commerce NIST (Women in STEM Group)

Another exciting Sunday night call with the cohort segued into the perfect final week. As I unplugged for the night, I was overwhelmed with dual thoughts: a strange feeling of sadness that this was our final Sunday call and a feeling of excitement for the busy week ahead.

On Monday, we had the honor of meeting with Judge Sri Srinivasan, Chief Justice of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. As a cohort, we had spent countless days and late nights throughout the summer discussing our future education plans—many of us have considered law school at some point or another. This made it all the more fascinating to hear from Judge Srinivasan, who shared his own experience going into law school with a commitment to public service. He recounted his time arguing in front of the SCOTUS and left many aspiring lawyers in our group wondering how our South Asian identity fits into the insulated and de-politicized environment of the Court system.

On Tuesday, we spoke with Gautam Rhagavan, the Associate Director of Public Engagement under President Obama. Gautam shared with us his experience fighting to change traditional narratives while working with a variety of grassroots organizations and advocates in the LGBT+ and AAPI spaces. Gautam left us with a simple, yet important piece of advice:

“be nice.” As I reflected on the summer after the cohort’s post-session debrief call, Gautam’s statement resonated with me in more ways than one. The simple acts of kindness (e.g. motivational text messages, check-ins, and laughter-filled video calls) from my fellow cohort members not only put a smile on my face every day but truly solidified our friendships. Similarly, the board members’ selflessness and constant support has meant more to me than I could ever describe. I ended the day feeling incredibly fortunate to be a part of this powerful community and hoping that I can “pay it forward” one day as they did for me.

My final internship presentation on Wednesday was one of many highlights of this final week! I woke up energized and excited after reading the early morning good luck messages from the cohort and drinking my daily cup of matcha.

(I’ve shared my recipe with the cohort, and the picture on the right is Mihiri’s take using my recipe!)

This energy lasted throughout the day and into our evening panel with Raghu Devanguptapu, Pallavi Purkayastha, and Shripal Shah. During the short two-hour session, they shared more insights than I ever expected about working in the campaign sphere and the importance of South Asian representation in both politics and policy. They ended the panel with a final piece of advice: reflect on the resources you were provided and fight to help provide those to others. While I am unsure where my education or career path will take me next, this is a mindset I intend to carry with me after WLP.

Hillary Shah - The University of North Texas, Class of 2021, Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Commerce

I woke up Thursday after an amazing first half of the week filled up inspirational and wise speakers and was excited but very nervous; not only was it the second-to-last day of WLP, it was also the second-to-last day of my internship with the Department of Commerce, Office of Civil Rights. My internship has been the most amazing experience that I could’ve asked for as I’ve gained hands-on experience in federal government. That Thursday, I was invited to give a presentation on what I had achieved as an intern to the Office of Civil Rights staff, and they offered congratulations, advice, and made me promise to keep in touch with them to further continue a mentorship relationship. I was reminded of something that I had been surprised to learn early on during WLP—that people other than myself could be genuinely invested in my success as a public service-oriented person. I can’t wait to continue to pay it forward to others the same way I have been uplifted by the team!

That night, the WLP cohort successfully presented our WLP project to the board. We started off the presentation in true 2020 cohort fashion as we poked fun at each other by mimicking one another’s intros, and the rest of the presentation was a rush of adrenaline as we all worked together. Our South Asian civic engagement-focused project involves creating and distributing a video with a corresponding blog filled with a diverse group of South Asians talking about their experience and linking it to the importance of voting in November 2020!

On Friday, I had the last big event at my internship for the First Generation Professionals Academy. I was hosting and coordinating the panel discussion, where three first-gen emerging professional speakers were invited to speak about their experiences as first-gen and ask questions to a diverse panel of successful federal government employees who were also first-gen. It was such an empowering discussion, and work such as this reminds me why I love public service and paying it forward so much.

The last thing we did on Friday before the official end of WLP was a debrief, a two-hour session that ended up becoming four hours on Zoom as we unpacked a program I can only describe as transformational, tearfully expressed our love for each other as a cohort, made the board take our Buzzfeed quiz to see which member of the cohort they were most like (#teamhillary), and most importantly, played a reality show-esque prank on one of our co-chairs (sorry Harin!).

It used to drive me crazy that I couldn't predict everything—I hated the fact that I didn't know what was going to happen next week, or next year, next decade. I chose one of my majors to be in economics in hopes of being able to learn the ins and outs of a reliable field that was used most often to oppress marginalized communities, only to find that the economic models we studied were largely unable to forecast some of the worst economic recessions we’d had. I’m pursuing law school to study something I believed to be the most reliable and powerful tool we had to break down oppressive structures—only to realize that the legal structure itself and our most prominent theories of law were built to keep the elite at the top rung of society.

This anxiety of not being able to predict everything, and therefore know that I was going to be okay, was only heightened by COVID-19 taking away my sense of security, plans to be in D.C. with the WLP program, and my upcoming senior year. But now that I look back, I came out of the most unpredictable time of my life and a digital WLP program with a few things that I have been longing for as far as I can remember: a tight group of South Asian friends, an immense amount of knowledge about the ins and outs of public service, an expanded network filled with people who care about me and my success, and maybe most importantly: the realization that it was okay that I couldn’t forecast everything that would happen. Unpredictability is the maybe best part of life, because I could’ve never predicted what I got this summer.


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