Discovering the power of words
A White House internship with Vice President Joe Biden’s speechwriting staff over the summer helped senior Gabriela Alvarez discover a new career path.
Sitting behind a teleprompter as Vice President Joe Biden gave a speech at the Cancer Moonshot Summit, Gabriela Alvarez knew she had found her career path.
The senior international studies and political science double major from Virginia had just completed an internship at the White House in the Office of the Vice President, researching and editing for Biden’s speechwriting staff. It was an internship she had been pursuing since her first summer at Elon, when she changed her focus from dance to politics. “After my first semester, I realized I was reading a lot of political articles,” she says.
She applied for the White House Internship Program that summer and when she didn’t get in, she went on to intern with then-U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf. The fall of her sophomore year, the Elon College Fellow spent time researching Mitt Romney’s rhetoric toward Hispanics in the 2012 election. She applied for the summer White House internship once again but ended up interning with Rock the Vote instead. Before heading to Copenhagen, Denmark, to study abroad in the spring of her junior year, she applied a third time and was finally accepted. While she was hoping to intern at the Domestic Policy Council, she was assigned to the Office of the Vice President as its only speechwriting intern.
Alvarez was hesitant at first since speechwriting was not something she had considered but decided to make the best of it. Her first assignment was to read Biden’s biography to get used to his tone. She also went through several of his past speeches to inform new ones to ensure a consistent narrative. “It’s the best working environment that I’ve ever worked in,” she says. “The vice president is now my hero.”
She learned many of Biden’s sayings and how his upbringing and Irish family roots have shaped him and influenced much of his political career. She was also granted the opportunity to engage with National Security Council Directors in educational foreign policy discussions for the interns, as well as staff official White House events like the Cancer Moonshot Summit. It was at that event, while listening to Biden go off script after his speech, she had that moment of clarity. “It changed my career,” she says. “I realized that speechwriting ties my interests really well.”
She also realized that all her past internships had been preparing her for that moment. Her experience at the office of Congressman Wolf gave her the first behind-the-scenes look at the political process and Rock the Vote helped her discover her passion for voting advocacy. “People are so conflicted about voting,” she says, “but they don’t realize what a privilege it is.”
Alvarez, whose senior research deals with how gender is portrayed in the Aldrich Ames case—a Soviet double agent apprehended in 1994 by a female CIA intelligence officer—hopes to pursue a master’s degree in international peace studies at Trinity College Dublin after graduation. “I’m interested in looking at the base roots of conflicts,” she says. In the meantime, she has applied to both the George J. Mitchell Scholarship and Fulbright programs.
Her end goal is to work for a presidential candidate who encourages people to vote to bring resolutions to conflict, and to, one day, return to the White House as a presidential speechwriter. “I’m interested in conflict resolution and I can accomplish a lot of that through speechwriting,” she says.