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Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014
Education

Tampa area college grads describe dream opportunity at White House

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TAMPA — One has shaken hands with President Barack Obama. Another says he’d have to pinch himself if he found himself in the Oval Office. Another has described getting goose bumps the first time she heard the president, then a candidate, give a speech.

All three are local college graduates now in Washington, D.C. serving as interns in the White House, having parlayed their education and social activism into prestigious stints with the president’s staff.

“It’s just been an honor to be on the complex and collaborate with some incredible folks,” said Meredith Monti, 23, a University of South Florida grad who grew up in Madeira Beach. “This is an experience I’ll never forget, and coming to work every day is a true pleasure.”

She is now working in the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Monti is joined by Zara Rahim, another USF grad and onetime public affairs assistant and digital manager for Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn; and Vincent D’Agostino, 33, a Connecticut native who graduated from Stetson University College of Law, based in Gulfport.

The Tampa- area trio are among 145 who landed White House internships this fall.

“I hope to experience the history of the White House, the sites of D.C., and to learn and work alongside some of the most brilliant people in their respective fields,” said D’Agostino, who was a longtime staffer at the AIDS Service Association of Pinellas, a program of Suncoast Hospice, and now works for the Domestic Policy Council in the Office of National AIDS Policy.

Monti and D’Agostino were recently interviewed via email through the White House Office of Communications. Rahim declined to be interviewed; she has been posting to the official White House blog on issues and events involving first lady Michelle Obama.

The three will work in Washington until mid-December. They aren’t paid and are on their own in terms of housing.

All share the traits of political involvement and public service.

Monti earned her degree in political science and international studies and was a founding member of the Equestrian Club at USF. She served as an intern at an international development firm in Arlington, Va., where she studied housing and reintegration issues in Haiti.

“This experience opened my eyes to injustice and the true resilience of people,” said Monti, who also joined College Democrats at USF and worked at Obama’s Florida campaign headquarters.

Monti had a meet-and-greet with Obama but didn’t have the time for a conversation.

“If I had the opportunity to have face time with him, all I could do is thank him for the incredible self-sacrifice and dedication he’s given his country,” she said.

D’Agostino did HIV community education during two years in the Peace Corps in Swaziland after graduating from Flagler College in St. Augustine with a major in psychology and minors in pre-law and politics. He also worked on the Obama campaigns.

D’Agostino hasn’t had the opportunity to meet Obama face to face.

“I honestly would pinch myself,” he said. “I would be thinking, ‘Who is this actor playing the president and who is this actor playing me?’ ”

In May, at age 22, Rahim was named one of the “30 Under 30” rising stars in Florida politics by the SaintPetersBlog website.

The White House bills its internships as a hands-on program designed to mentor and cultivate young leaders and prepare them for public service opportunities.

That’s appropriate for the local trio, all of whom express an interest in futures in politics.

“I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to work here. The place is rich with palpable history,” D’Agostino said. “My favorite part of the day is walking in front of the White House on my way to work and seeing the West Wing as I end my day.”

jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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