Reflection: ECAASU HS Fellow on White House Interns-Only Briefing

This post is a write-up from Alani Fujii, ECAASU High School Fellow, about her experience at the White House Interns-Only Briefing on AAPI Issues.

On July 29, I attended the White House Interns-Only Briefing on AAPI Issues, along with my sister, Lily. It was an early Monday morning, and we arrived at the White House right on time (We had a little trouble finding the entrance though!). Many of the participants were interning from several executive agencies, as well as non-profit organizations. We being both 16, my sister and I stuck out among the crowd of  undergrad and graduate students, but that did not stop us from asking questions and staying engaged.

Ronnie Cho, the Associate Director of Public Engagement, spoke to us about the issue of rising student loan interest. He clearly went over the legislation that would cap the student loan interest rate at 8.25% for federal loans (which would only happen in an extraordinary situation). I liked how much he related to the rest of us. Because I am looking at colleges now for my undergrad experience, I am especially interested in staying informed about student loans and the changes that happen to them. Out of all the speakers, his briefing was my favorite.

When we changed topics to environmental issues, I wasn't sure where Mr. Rohan Patel, the Associate Director of the Council of Environmental Quality, was going to start. I've always been all over the place in keeping up with environmental issues, so I am glad that he went over many different ones, clearly and concisely. When a student asked about the Keystone pipeline, I was immediately interested in Mr. Patel's response because I had no idea how he would answer the question. The White House has usually been quiet about the Keystone, so it was nice to hear a clear response from him.

The Affordable Care Act is one of the topics I haven't stayed as engaged with. Until the briefing, I never really thought about how it will affect my family and I. Kate Moraras, a Senior Advisor to the White House Initiative on AAPIs, effectively spoke about why young people need to stay engaged with the ACA. Along with the handout about the details on ACA, her presentation about AAPIs and healthcare inspired me to spread the word about ACA to my friends and family. I'm trying to reach out to more people and spread the word about ACA. She also provided a round table guide to informing people about the ACA and healthcare resources. I was impressed with her clarity, and the resources she provided to us, the students.

One of the more heated discussions among my sister and I before the event was about immigration reform. We both have interesting takes about how to "fix the system," but after listening to Tuyet Duong, a Senior Advisor to the White House Initiative on AAPIs, we both have gotten better views on what is really happening and what we have to do. Almost 90% of my friends either are immigrants or have immigrant parents, so I thought this was one of the most important topics to openly discuss. A special surprise for all of us was when the AAPI Dream Riders spoke to us about their mission and what goals they are out to succeed. Seeing and listening to people who are on the front lines for immigration reform opened me to truly understand why our country needs a fix in the immigration system. Many stories were told, and I never really understood how people were affected so deeply by the immigration system, until now.

The White House Staff Panel, consisting of Aneesh Raman, a Presidential Speechwriter, Irene Hsu, the Assistant Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, and Shin Inouye, the Director of Specialty Media in the White House Office of Communications, was an open discussion of career choices, what they have done so far, etc. Still in high school, I didn't relate to it as much. Nonetheless, it was still interesting to hear what they had to say to undergrad and graduate students. I thought it was valuable information because one day, I'll be a 20-something student. I think my sister and I got a "snapshot" of what we will go through....eventually.

Going to the White House and actively listening to all these issues is an example of the many opportunities I usually overlook as a sixteen year old. The more events I go to, the more engaged and interested I actually get with issues affecting our society today. I'm also learning about what I want to do and study in college and beyond. I had an awesome time!
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