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Cortland native gets White House close-up

Photo provided by Will Brown

Cortland native Will Brown, 22, is shown in front of the White House during the South By South Lawn tech expo in October. Brown finished his internship with the Obama administration last week.

As yet another chapter in the history of the country comes to an end, so does that of one resident who got a rare opportunity to be a part of the story.

That is because last week, Cortland native and Tompkins Community College alum Will Brown, 22, returned from a fall internship at the White House working with the outgoing Obama administration and a few dozen lucky interns from across the country.

Brown grew up in a very active political family. His grandmother was the late Marilyn Brown, the former Cortland County Legislator Chair who died in March. His father is Democratic Election Commissioner Tom Brown.

So it makes sense that Will Brown would go on to become president of the Student Government Association at LeMoyne College, where he studies finance and business analytics, then to intern for U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

He said the latter was what led him to apply for an internship at the White House.
“That experience gave me the confidence that told me I should apply and that I had a shot,” he said.

The application process was extensive, Brown said. He had to secure two letters of recommendation and write a sample policy memo to the president and, of course, go through an FBI background check.

The White House would eventually notify Brown in July that he was one of 166 interns selected from a pool of roughly 6,000 considered for the program. By September, he would be working in Washington in the Office of Presidential Correspondence.

“One thing I’ll always take away from the internship is just how humble all of the staff was,” he said. “Everyone is so down to earth, so willing to help. They really believe in what the president is doing. It’s really refreshing.”

Brown said part of his job largely involved forwarding emails to their respective departments and answering whatever questions he could.

Plus, traditionally, the president personally reads and responds to 10 letters each day, so another part of his job was to help members of the staff select which emails get to the president’s desk.

While some might view that type of work as boring, Brown said that was one of the most interesting parts of the job.

“People … were happy, mad, sad,” he said “There were people who would write in with very personal problems. Being able to read real time unfettered email from just the average American really gives you insight to what people are really thinking.”

Of course, Brown got to meet President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, but he also had chances to learn from members of the administration like Press Secretary Josh Earnest and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett.

Those experiences were great, Brown said, but it was what he got to see behind the scenes that will stick with him.

“We got to go into the East Wing and stand (on the threshold) looking into the Oval Office,” he said. “After that, we got to walk down the (West Wing) Colonnade. That was really surreal getting to walk that and knowing that every president gets to walk that.”

Brown said he will carry the experience he had as a White House intern with him as he works to pursue a career in the financial sector, law and ultimately, politics. He also had advice for those thinking about interning at the White House.

“The biggest thing to do is read,” he said. “It’s amazing what you can learn just by doing that. That’s where you get a lot of information and you’ll be really well prepared. The first thing I think they should do is go for it. If you don’t apply, you’re never going to know.”

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