Hanna Cody @ Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders (SMYAL) in Washington, DC
As I sit on the plane heading back to Minnesota, I can’t help but realize how wonderfully unexpected these past two months have been. I came to Washington D.C. excited, but completely unaware of how transformative this summer would be. My time at American University and SMYAL has helped me grow in my strengths as well as confidence. A week ago I successfully executed a donor cultivation event that I planned from start to finish all on my own; I have watched a taping of Meet the Press; I had breakfast with Senator Al Franken; I was quoted in Tagg Magazine, DC’s premiere lesbian publication; and I met countless amazing people, including my wonderful roommate. I loved my time here so much that I will be returning to American University as a participant in their Washington Semester Program for the fall. I could not be happier to return to this incredible city in three weeks. I honestly don’t know if I could ever sufficiently put into the words the experiences I’ve had and the lessons that I’ve learned this summer, but for the purposes of this blog, I will do my best to summarize.
This summer, I have learned that:
- Laughing makes you a better advocate. It can be easy to get bogged down, worn out or take yourself too seriously, and though putting in late hours at work can be good, being too tired to function isn’t. Taking care of yourself by taking time off work, or stopping to laugh with your coworkers gives you the energy to do your job better.
- We are very far from equality. My last weeks at SMYAL heavily focused on finding ways to engage queer women to become donors and get involved in supporting SMYAL’s programs. As we continued to brainstorm, it became increasingly evident that women were not involved in SMYAL, not for a lack of interest, but because our system (and probably the LGBT advocacy movement at large) was heavily geared towards supporting the needs of gay men. Even though our society is making strides towards equality, it is obvious that much more needs to be done to make sure that no one, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender, is underrepresented or ignored.
- Never pass up the chance to build a relationship. When working in any field, it’s inevitable that you’ll have to interact with people. It never hurts to take some time to grab coffee, learn more and start establishing a good relationship for the future.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Most people want to see you succeed and are more than willing to tell you about their experience. Take time to reach out and ask someone about the path they took to where they are today.
These lessons are applicable to anyone, anywhere, at any age or in any field, so I would hope that any student reading this would take some of this advice to heart. As I conclude this blog post and my trip, I have to thank everyone who made this possible either by conducting interviews, answering my never-ending stream of questions, or just assuring me that I would some day conquer the Metro (in case you’re wondering, I only got lost a few times… a week). This couldn’t have been possible without you, and for that I am extremely grateful.