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Class at the Capitol

South Boston News
Sophie Crowell and her Capitol Hill boss, Fifth District Rep. Robert Hurt / November 11, 2013

The ways of Washington, D.C. may be hard to fathom, but one Halifax County student is gaining first-hand exposure to national politics by serving as a Congressional intern during her senior year in high school.

Sophie Crowell, daughter of Andy Crowell of South Boston, found herself taking on an uncharacteristically heavy workload as an intern for Fifth District Congressman Robert Hurt (R-Chatham) during the recent federal government shutdown. While other members of the Congressman’s office were on furlough, Crowell, an unpaid intern, remained on the job.
The News & Record caught up with the HCHS senior-in-Washington to ask her what it’s been like learning the ropes on Capitol Hill:

News & Record: Tell us about your experiences during the government shutdown — since you were one of the few aides left on the job. Were you surprised to be one of the few people still working at the Capitol?

Sophie Crowell: Capitol Hill definitely was quieter once the shutdown began, but my work and the work done in our office never ceased. Our office remained open and was receiving calls. I work to help the Congressman and his staff on a daily basis by answering letters and phone calls from constituents and assisting with any research that needs to be done. As an unpaid intern, I was not surprised to still be working during the shutdown, but I’m very fortunate to be able to experience this very important moment in country’s history just down the hall from where it’s occurring.

N&R: How did your duties change with the shutdown? Did you feel sometimes like you’d gotten a promotion?
Crowell: My duties didn’t necessarily change, but they increased in intensity. Communications to our office increased dramatically. Normally part of my job is to give tours of the Capitol to constituents, but staff-led tours had been canceled. It didn’t really feel like I’d gotten a promotion, but it does feel as if I gotten the perk of being able to be on Capitol Hill when hundreds of others are asked not to come in.

N&R: Tell us a little bit about how you came to be a Congressional intern. How are you keeping up with school? Do you stay in touch with your friends and teachers at HCHS?
Crowell: Since I was then-state Sen. Hurt’s page in the General Assembly in Richmond, I’ve kept in close contact with him and his office and asked about any opportunities I should take advantage of. He suggested that I apply for an internship in his Washington, D.C. office in either high school or college. This being my senior year, I needed to take four classes to graduate, so I decided to take all of them second semester and work during first semester. I was fortunate enough to have family that lives just outside of metropolitan D.C. while I’m here. I’ve kept in very close contact with my friends in Halifax and I certainly miss them! My friends and teachers have been super supportive, and I’m sure that my internship will help me with my government class next semester.

N&R: Before going to work in Washington, you served as a General Assembly page. How does the experience of working at the nation’s Capitol differ from your stint at the Virginia legislature?
Crowell: Washington, D.C. is somewhat different from the General Assembly in Virginia. It’s much more fast-paced and the topics are very diverse. Issues here obviously lean towards international issues. However, the legislative processes are nearly identical.

N&R: How did you get so interested in politics? Are you thinking about a career in public service?
Crowell: I’ve always been really interested in politics from simply watching the news with my dad from a young age, but I can honestly say that I never thought I would be interning for my congressman’s office in Washington, D.C. I know I want to study Political Science in college, but I’m not sure exactly what I want to do yet.

N&R: Have you met any famous people in Washington? Speaker Boehner? Eric Cantor? President Obama?
Crowell: I haven’t gotten to meet any “political celebrities” yet, but I did get to see Secretary of State John Kerry on his way to committee for discussions on the United States taking military action in Syria. I also have seen Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Rep. Paul Ryan from the House Gallery while I was giving a tour of the Capitol.

N&R: Who is a person in public life that you admire, and why?
Crowell: A person I personally admire is President Ronald Reagan. He was, and still is, someone that people on both sides of the aisle admired. He gave more responsibility that belonged to the states and the cities by dismantling federal programs. Reagan understood that Americans wanted freedom and would do well when more was given to them
N&R: We hear all the time that young people are disengaged in politics, yet you helped to keep the Fifth District Congressional office running during an extraordinary time in recent American political history. Do you think that young people get a bad rap from their elders when it comes to their political involvement?
Crowell: I do think that young people get a bad rap in politics. We’re constantly being told that we’re too young to understand or that because we can’t vote we can’t make a difference. That couldn’t be more untrue. The youth of American have such great computer skills and a much better comprehension of the effect that social media can have on elections and political office. In recent elections, the young people of America were almost the deciding factors. On Capitol Hill, most Congressional staffers are in their thirties or younger.

N&R: With the government back up and running, has life in the office gone back to normal?
Crowell: Life in the office is returning back to normal since the shutdown ended and we avoided breaching our debt limit. Everyone is back to work as we address the current problems and glitches with the Obamacare website.

N&R: When all this is over, what do you plan to tell the folks back home about the great American government shutdown of 2013?
Crowell: I will definitely say that it was something I’ll never forget. Being on Capitol Hill at a time like this was bittersweet. It’s very educational and interesting to follow, but affected hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country and more importantly, in our district.

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