In the midst of history: D.C. internship ignites Armin Cejvanovic’s passion for public service
“What did you do with your summer?”
University of Missouri–St. Louis sophomore Armin Cejvanovic has a different answer to that familiar question this fall than most returning students. Not many college sophomores can say that they spent two months learning the ropes of civic engagement from a United States congressman, listening to civil rights legends speak, or actively participating in history by helping draft a congressional record insert, but Cejvanovic did all of that and more.
Cejvanovic, who was born in Bosnia and immigrated to the U.S. with his parents when he was only two, spent his summer interning in the Washington D.C. office of U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. The opportunity – one Cejvanovic admits he really didn’t think he would have since he was “only a freshman” when he applied last spring – was an eye-opening experience to say the least.
“To be honest,” Cejvanovic says with a bit of awe still in his voice, “I thought I would just be getting coffee and running errands.”
Luckily, such familiar-sounding internship fears couldn’t have been further from the truth. For eight weeks, thanks to the UM System Internship Program he discovered through UMSL, Cejvanovic lived in a house near Capitol Hill with 12 other student interns. He spent 40 hours a week navigating a vast array of government-related tasks that included shadowing meetings and attending hearings.
Occasionally, he even ran into some politically famous faces. (He met Massachusetts’ Sen. Elizabeth Warren in an elevator on the way to Sen. Claire McCaskill’s office, for example.) While Cejvanovic admits that he was nervous since the work experience was his first foray outside of retail, he says the kind and welcoming nature of Clay’s entire staff helped to ease his apprehensions.
“The congressman was all about support and encouragement,” Cejvanovic says of Clay. “His message was really one of never giving up.”
Being in D.C. at such a unique moment in time – during a presidential primary and other major historical events of the summer – certainly made an impact as well. Cejvanovic was working during FBI Director James Comey’s hearing on Hillary Clinton’s email usage. He was also present for the Democratic sit-in on gun control, an event that occurred after the tragic terrorist attack in Orlando.
“We received a lot of supportive calls in those two days,” Cejvanovic says of the office environment during the sit-in.
He didn’t just field the phone calls, however. Cejvanovic was among a group of interns and constituents that Clay actually led onto the House floor.
“I was able to watch from a few rows away as famous Democratic representatives like Sheila Jackson Lee spoke. Civil rights icon John Lewis was also there.”
One can imagine that after having so many incredible experiences in such a brief amount of time, it might be hard to summarize or shrink it all down into specific takeaways. Perhaps nothing speaks more to the value of Cejvanovic’s D.C. adventures than the fact that he now has his sights set on a return.
“I’m already looking for ways to go back next summer,” he says. “Maybe a White House internship next time.”
Part of this steadfast determination comes from Cejvanovic’s positive summer experience, of course. But part of it comes from his reasoning for being interested in politics in the first place. Cejvanovic is double majoring in political science and economics – and following a constant loop of political news on his phone, laptop and television – largely because he wants to make a difference in people’s lives.
This desire connects strongly to the family he considers himself exceptionally close to.
“My parents inspire me to do well in college,” Cejvanovic explains. “I grew up watching them struggle as immigrants who did not speak a lot of English. They worked tough physical jobs in order to help my sister and I have a better future. That is why I study and work so hard. It is also another reason I want to go into politics: to help people who struggle since I have witnessed it firsthand.”
To learn more about the program Cejvanovic participated in, as well as future opportunities, contact UMSL’s Karen Pierre at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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