The Ten Minutes that Changed My Life: From California to The White House

Jane Kennedy Miss Yosemite Valley

Soaking it in in front of the West Wing

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being the next Kennedy in The White House.

As a child, I looked up to my mom and grandmother, who modeled charity and compassion through their commitment to serving others. Service quickly became ingrained in my life. Saturday mornings meant serving breakfast at Loaves and Fishes, summer afternoons were spent tutoring with Super Stars Literacy in Oakland, and August meant stuffing backpacks for Foster a Dream. Nothing gave me more joy than using my own two hands to serve others in my community. I was constantly seeking out bigger and better ways to make a greater impact.

When the President comments that he loves the glitter...

When the President comments that he loves the glitter…

In eighth grade, our class began to learn about the federal government and how leaders in Washington, DC had the ability to appropriate funding and direct efforts to support their constituencies. It was then that I became determined to work in The White House, where serving others could be a full-time job.

Through high school and college, I chased opportunities to lead, grow, and serve. During my junior year at UC Santa Barbara, I decided to apply for the UCDC program, which allows University of California students to live and work in Washington, DC while receiving units and taking classes at night. I remember going in to meet with the program advisor and listing the internships I was applying for. When I brought up The White House Internship Program, he laughed.

I shared the dream that I’d had for over ten years, and the response was laughter. The advisor told me that my chances were “slim” and that I should “explore other options.” Leaving the office, I refused to feel defeated – instead, I shook off his doubt. I resolutely decided that I would rather try and fail than not apply at all.

Two months later, I received a call from a blocked number while walking home from class. The voice on the other end of the phone said that it was “Jessica, calling from The White House.” I just about fell over.

Jane Kennedy Miss Yosemite Valley

Surprise! I got to welcome Jessa and the Miss America class of 2017 to the White House!

With little time to think, I pulled it together and ran off the busy walkway into a grove of trees. Jessica asked if I had ten minutes to interview, and I exuberantly responded “Of course!” For the next ten minutes, I interviewed like my life depended on it. I told Jessica about my leadership on campus, my passion for working with young women, and my involvement with the Miss California Organization. After just 10 minutes and seven seconds, we ended the call. I stood in that wooded area off the path for a few moments, thinking that those ten minutes may have been the best ten minutes of my life. I had interviewed for The White House! Little did I know, it was only the beginning.

Three months later, I walked up the steps of The White House for the first day of my internship. I spent those months working harder than I ever knew possible, leading speaker series events with senior staff, writing memos, organizing community service events, mentoring high school students, and so much more. A highlight was getting to present President Obama with a birthday card on behalf of my intern class!

Jane Kennedy Miss Yosemite Valley

One of the best days, South by South Lawn

After my internship, I was extended the opportunity to stay through the fall as an Associate. Those next four months afforded me the chance to work with the Presidential speechwriting team, assisting with five speeches for the President and First Lady. I also worked on major events, including Halloween, the Italian State Arrival, and South by South Lawn. After eight months, I came home to California a changed woman – still determined to live a life of service, but far more empowered and confident in my ability to do so.

The detail that my interview for The White House was ten minutes is not lost on me. I had just completed my year as Miss Ventura County 2015, and had spent countless hours training to rock a ten-minute interview. Without this experience, there’s no way to know if I could have closed the deal and secured my dream job. The Miss America Organization has given me the tools to succeed and the strength to believe that I am capable of anything I can imagine. This program empowers us to step out of our comfort zones, to embrace challenges, and to do it all for the sake of service.

Each of us is called to serve, and I’m endlessly grateful for the opportunities afforded to me through the Miss California Organization. As Miss Yosemite Valley this year, I am determined to make every moment count and to use this platform to encourage others to do the same.

Thank you for reading – go out and chase those “crazy” dreams because you never know what might happen!

Jane Kennedy
Miss Yosemite Valley 2018