A First Job--at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Molly Flanagan was looking ahead to her final semester at Kenyon, when a call came from the White House

Molly Flanagan grew up talking politics. "The news was always on, it was always a conversation at the dinner table," she says. "Ever since I was a little girl, that's always been a large part of my life." Flanagan's mother once worked for an Ohio congressman, and her grandfather was a Democratic county chair in Iowa. "That sense of service to others was cultivated at a very young age," Flanagan affirms.

Unusual? Maybe a little. What is unusual, however, is the job that this twenty-two-year-old landed right out of Kenyon--no, make that before even finishing her senior year. In January, when her fellow political science majors were worrying about comps, Flanagan began working in the executive office at the White House.

She is the executive assistant to the director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, which helps coordinate communication between the White House staff and state, local, and tribal officials. On one day, Flanagan may be helping her boss prepare for a meeting; on another, she may be working on presidential trips, setting up meetings between the president and governors or mayors.

When the job offer came in December, Flanagan had to decide quickly if she would take it, and, if so, how she would complete her college career. Leaving early was "a very mixed-emotion decision," she says. "I talked to some of my professors, and they helped me think it through. I had enough credits in the bank to graduate early, but I did sacrifice completing an honors project."

Flanagan was sad to have to leave her friends so suddenly. She also regretted having to abandon some campus leadership responsibilities. She was vice president for academic affairs on Student Council and head of the political science advisory board. In the admissions office, she interviewed prospective students and, as one of the head tour guides, oversaw the volunteers who lead visitors around campus.

Ultimately, though, the decision was clear. "I really felt like this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Flanagan says.

The road to that opportunity was paved with internships. Flanagan spent two summers working for Congressman Rob Portman, a Republican representing her home district in Cincinnati, Ohio. She also interned at the Washington, D.C., office of Ohio's then-governor, Robert A. Taft.

"I can't emphasize enough the importance of internships, the importance of using them as springboards," Flanagan says. "I think that was probably critical in helping to secure the White House job."

Also critical were two Kenyon political science professors, John Elliott and Pamela Camerra-Rowe, who wrote letters of recommendation and helped talk Flanagan through the decision to take the job.

As for her future plans, Flanagan says, "I'll probably go to law school. I'm a Cincinnati native, and I hope to return to Ohio. I feel like I'll always be active in politics or public life. I think there's a great calling in working for the government and working for the people." And she doesn't rule out running for office someday herself.

She was speaking, however, in March--very much aware that well before running for anything, she had an important walk ahead of her, on May 19, across a stage on the sun-dappled lawn of Samuel Mather Hall.

On that day, she would be joining her classmates to receive her Kenyon diploma, and the White House would have to wait.

--Traci Vogel

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