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Student Spotlight: Darion Johnston

Photograph courtesy of Darion Johnston Johnston spent the semester working with Rep. Lois Capps.
Photograph courtesy of Darion Johnston
Johnston spent the semester working with Rep. Lois Capps.

From the government shutdown to the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington, Darion Johnston is having a busy and eventful semester.

Johnston, a junior double major in communication studies and political science, earned the opportunity to spend the semester in Washington, D.C. through the congressional internship program from the Panetta Institute for Public Policy. The internship was worth 20 units, and participants learned first-hand how a government office works.

The institute was started by Leon Panetta,  the former Secretary of Defense and CIA director and his wife Sylvia. The program aims to help students become better leaders. One student from each California State University campus is chosen to participate in the internship, which takes place in Monterey for the first two weeks.

Students spent the first two weeks taking classes and listening to different speakers in Monterey, Johnston said.

“We actually got to hear Panetta tell his story about how he got Osama Bin Laden,” Johnston said. “That was better than the movie, obviously, but I still had my Coke and popcorn.”

After the first two weeks, participants were set up with a member of the House of Representatives. Johnston was set up with Rep. Lois Capps, a congresswoman from California’s 24th district, which covers Santa Barbara County, San Luis Obispo County and northern Ventura County.

Johnston was responsible for answering phone calls to Capps’ office, writing letters to constituents, giving tours of the Capitol and attending briefings, she said.

“When I got there, I was thrown into it right before the Syria conflict started happening,” she said. “Everyone who was angry were blowing up the phones.”

Johnston also got to spend time at the White House as part of a seminar put on by the Panettas.

“It was really exciting and we felt really cool,” Johnston said. “Our meeting was in the Roosevelt Room, which used to be the oval office.”

The government shutdown was an interesting experience, Johnston said. It was disappointing to see people who are supposed to be leaders really fail the country.

“Everyone was just angrier,” she said. “As someone who just showed up, it seemed like a huge blame game.”

One stressful moment during the government shutdown dealt with a man who had a heart transplant but needed medication to prevent his body from rejecting the new organ, she said.

“He had a week’s supply left, but the government shut down and he couldn’t file his paperwork,” Johnston said. “I was supposed to go take his paperwork there, but the office was closed, it was locked.”

The man was taken care of, but it was a sad moment to watch, Johnston said.

One inspiring moment she witnessed on her third day in the Capitol was the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington.

“I got to see Obama, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Oprah speak,” she said. “That was incredible to see so many people come out and support equal rights.”

Johnston hopes to run for an Associated Students position next semester. She wants to take some of the knowledge and skills she learned in Washington and apply them to student government.

“I’m incredibly grateful to have had this experience,” she said. “It was definitely a blessing.”


Sharon Martin can be reached at [email protected] or @SharonBMartin on Twitter.

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