An Hour of Inspiration

by Elizabeth McElvein '14

Elizabeth McElvein

I was a D.C. summer intern. I was one of the thousands of doe-eyed young professionals who swarm the nation’s capitol eagerly seeking an insider’s perspective on an infamous town. I clocked my 40 hours a week at the Brookings Institution, a centrist public policy think tank committed to researching and developing public policy that bolsters American democracy, fosters economic and social welfare, and secures a just, cooperative, and prosperous international system.

I was amazed by the array of political dignitaries and academic authorities at Brookings, but one expert in particular caught my attention.

Dr. Alice Rivlin is a senior fellow of economics at Brookings with a seriously impressive history of public service. She is a member of the President’s Debt Reduction Committee, the founding director of the Congressional Budget Office, and the former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve.

A petite lady of 81, this larger-than-life economic powerhouse rendered me “scholar struck.”

I soon learned that Dr. Rivlin was slated to testify before the Senate Finance Committee on her newest debt reduction proposal. I took advantage of a slow day for me in the office and trooped up to the Hill, excited to see Dr. Rivlin exemplify Brookings’ commitment to constructive debate and policy impact.

Calm and composed under the scrutiny of senators, Dr. Rivlin drove a discussion of international political and economic import. She confronted the largest economic demons plaguing the United States today and respectfully countered pointed questions with admirably unassuming eloquence.

I returned to Brookings that afternoon eager to congratulate Dr. Rivlin on her performance and to ask her a few questions about her career in public policy. One hour and dozens of drafts later, I sent her a brief email. Shortly thereafter, I was delighted to find that she had replied and invited me to stop by her office.

A few days later, I found myself outside Dr. Rivlin’s door armed with a list of questions and a notepad. I knocked, introduced myself, and sat down to chat with one of the most illustrious scholars at the Brookings Institution.

At the end of the hour, I reached a shocking conclusion: Alice is a regular human. She switched her major as an undergraduate student; she worked several entry-level jobs and developed patience and problem-solving skills indispensible to any team—especially one charged with reducing a trillion-dollar debt.

Reminded of the human side of political, economic, and academic dignitaries, I left the office feeling assured that with hard work, self-confidence, and luck, I, too, can become a successful professional.

Should I have the privilege of achieving such a level of professional distinction, I vow to emulate Dr. Rivlin’s humility, and to remember that an hour is just enough time to inspire one D.C. intern.

Elizabeth McElvein holds the 2012-2013 Gabrielle Giffords ’93 Internship in Public Service at Scripps College, honoring alumna and mentor Gabby Giffords and aiding students with demonstrated interest in public service, activism, and issues of social justice.


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