Students take semester off to work on campaigns

Junior Jamie Henagon wakes and sleeps according to Vice President Dick Cheney’s schedule.

As the full-time assistant to Cheney’s press secretary, Henagon starts his days at 7 a.m. and does not finish until 8 p.m. Despite the long hours, Henagon said the job is “pretty much a dream come true.”

Henagon is one of a handful of students taking the semester off to work on a presidential campaign. He was offered the job after he interned at the U.S. Treasury Department in spring 2004. The department’s director of public affairs called in July to offer him the job; three days later Henagon flew to D.C. to begin work.

A typical day for the Louisiana native consists of collecting information for the media when Cheney holds campaign events, conducting press briefings for the vice president and his wife and facilitating interviews.

“You really learn to dish out responsibility,” Henagon said.

Henagon said making arrangements to take a semester off on short notice was challenging.

All GW students are allowed one semester’s leave of absence with no questions asked, though housing and financial arrangements can sometimes present a problem.

“The hardest thing was working with financial aid,” Henagon said. “I had to make sure I came back to money in the spring.”

Henagon said he relishes the role he is playing in an increasingly close presidential election.

“This is the most important election of our lifetimes,” Henagon said. “I think I can help bring us one step closer to re-election.”

Henagon said his Republican upbringing in “the Bible belt” of the South led him to support President Bush and Cheney in the 2004 election.

“(Bush) has had steady and decisive leadership in the most trying time in American history,” he said.

Senior Ed Fish is also taking the semester off, working for Bush’s opponent, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. Fish, working as a field coordinator in Central Florida, has been given the task of organizing grass-roots operations in a state that lost the presidential race for Democratic candidate Al Gore by just hundreds of votes in 2000.

Fish spends his days recruiting volunteers, organizing phone banks and planning door-to-door campaigns. Sixteen-hour days are typical for him.

“It’s very addictive … it pretty much becomes your whole life,” he said.

Fish, a fine arts major with a concentration in ceramics, said a chance to work for Kerry’s campaign “was a opportunity I couldn’t pass up … it’s the opportunity to change the president of the United States.”

He said this election is particularly important for soon-to-be college graduates concerned about the economy, which he described as waning due to Bush’s policies.

As the youngest paid staffer in his region, Fish has been no stranger to enormous pressure since he began his position in early September. But he feels he made the right decision taking a semester off.

“No matter the outcome, there’s no doubt in my mind I made the right decision,” Fish said.

Although Fish is confident Kerry will be victorious come November, the anxiety of his work rarely leaves him.

“Last night I had a dream that we won the election,” he said. “I woke up with tears of joy.”

Sophomore David Ceasar also dreams of a victorious Kerry.

Ceasar works as a coordinator for the candidate’s motorcade on Kerry’s national advance staff. About a week prior to a campaign stop, Ceasar goes over Kerry’s motorcade plans with the U.S. Secret Service. He also works with local level campaign volunteers at each stop to ensure the motorcade runs smoothly.

A couple dozen people work to organize motorcades nationwide, with one in charge of the task in each city. Several hundred are part of Kerry’s national advance staff.

Ceasar, a former Hatchet copy editor, began his work for the Kerry campaign as a volunteer after responding to an e-mail sent out by Colonials for Kerry calling for motorcade drivers. After volunteering, Ceasar’s efforts evolved into an unpaid summer internship and finally into the paid position.

“It was really a combination of luck, playing my cards right and hard work that got me the position,” Ceasar said.

Ceasar is the only GW student living on campus that is taking a semester off to work for a presidential campaign. He spends the majority of his time on the road with the campaign staff, working upwards of 12 hours per day seven days a week.

Ceasar lived in City Hall during the summer for his internship and plans to continue living there next semester.

He requested a leave of absence from administrators at the beginning of the summer and said the University considers him a non-student for the time being.

Ceasar said returning to school in the spring will be a difficult adjustment.

“It’s like going from a high purpose to the lower level of everyday stuff,” Ceasar said. “It’s going to be difficult doing regular work.”

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