For many college students interested in politics, working in Washington, D.C. is almost entirely a dream due to the sheer competitiveness of positions on the national stage. But some Yalies still nonchalantly discuss their career plans as if it were simple to attain that coveted job.
I am not one of those individuals. For better or for worse, I have never really had that mindset. I did not grow up with connections in government. My parents immigrated to the United States 18 years ago without having finished high school. For my entire life, I basically focused on getting into college. Honestly, it is just insane that I am at Yale.
The advantages many of my peers already have in their political careers has taken some adjusting to. To be fair, I was never extremely keen on making a career in the federal government. I’ve always been more drawn to the local arenas of government, which has gotten some interesting reactions from other Yalies. Some just assume this is a launch pad for the Senate or House, while others just stare at me confused.
Yet, this summer I stuck to my own plans and got my first internship at the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office. The sheer size and influence of LA makes this position pretty competitive, but it’s definitely not on the top of many Yalies’ lists for internships. For it, I was stationed in my home of South Central Los Angeles, a community that has been extremely ignored and is, as a result, riddled with various socioeconomic problems. Having been a resident of the area for the majority of my life, I was excited to work as a representative for Mayor Eric Garcetti in this section of LA.
Almost immediately, I saw something strikingly different from the internships or jobs other political science majors at Yale had. The majority of my coworkers were attending public universities or lesser known private colleges. There was a first year going into Harvard in the program, but he later dropped out to work at a bank. The observations did not just come from me, but also from my fellow interns. “You don’t give off an Ivy League vibe like others I know,” an intern told me in reference to my personality and career plans. Others were quick to agree.
The work I did was an experience in itself. I was able to work closely with community leaders in South LA, while also being mentored by the actual public servants who were stationed there. I learned so much about constituent services as I covered the phone at Garcetti’s office, which is the major point of communication between City Hall and LA residents. I was encouraged to take leads on projects for the area, and I did. I made a plan for how to combat gentrification and unemployment, while also supporting local businesses in South LA. I mapped over 200 assets in our area. I devised a plan to garner support in South Central for a prospective and revolutionary homeless care center, a project that is at the top of Garcetti’s priorities. But most importantly, I collaborated with others to make these things happen and was able to see how the work my colleagues did makes a positive impact on their communities.
My point in listing these tasks is to show Yalies often do not consider these impactful but less glamorous options. The hierarchical mindset and privileged background many Yalies have push them away from these opportunities. Other times it’s the pressure parents put on students to follow in their footsteps or strive for the most seemingly prestigious positions in their career fields, even though students may not even want that future. There is even a demeaning notion that a Yale degree will be wasted if less recognized career paths are pursued. These ludicrous attitudes are especially troubling for many low-income, first-generation students who perhaps don’t have the advantages others here have.
We all have the potential to be in “top” jobs, but many of us aren’t necessarily aiming for that, nor should we. We all have passions and interests. My ambition just happens to be working to improve conditions in South LA, my home. Is that any less admirable than working in Washington D.C.?
Carlos Rodriguez Cortez | firstname.lastname@example.org