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

Miss California’s Midwest Adventures

Despite the negative temperatures, I had such a wonderful time during my Midwest adventures! One of my highlights was definitely getting to spend time with Miss South Dakota. We had a great lunch and she treated me to my first macaroon ever. Then we just spent the rest of our day together hanging out! She showed me around the downtown area, took me to a Midwest coffee chain, and then ran some errands at the mall. I am forever thankful to the Miss America Organization for bringing these wonderful women to my life. The next day, I took a road trip to Minnesota and checked out the Mall of America. It was massive. Absolutely indescribable. I rode a few rides, my favorite being “Fly Over America,” and explored only a fraction of how much mall there is to explore. Come to find out, I missed seeing Miss America by a few hours! She was at the Mall of America that very morning! That was such a bummer! My last day, I planned to explore the falls, only to find them mostly frozen over. However, they were even more beautiful frozen than I can imagine they would be otherwise. All in all, it was a great trip. We’re pretty spoiled here in California, but the Midwest has a certain charm about it that makes it quite appealing.

Miss California Takes on South Dakota

IMG_8248I am so happy to be back in California after spending a week in South Dakota. Other than my trip to Miss America and the occasional trip to Reno, I had never really spent a significant amount of time in another state. Before I went, I was thinking that Sioux Falls South Dakota was going to be some middle-of-nowhere place that had one bank, a school, and a grocery store and that’s it. I was really wrong. There was a lot that I noticed about this particular area of South Dakota.
The Weather
IMG_8268Obviously, I knew it was going to be cold. Well, let me tell you, those of us who have grown up in California our whole lives have absolutely no idea what winter feels like. Even myself, being from Northern California near Tahoe and getting snow once or twice a year did not prepare me for the cold of South Dakota. The whole time I was there, the temperature was never above 40 degrees. Now, 40 degrees isn’t so bad. However, the wind chill made it feel like it was 6 degrees (according to my weather app). On top of that, everyone I talked to said that it was unseasonably WARM! The temperature there can get as low as -20. I can’t even begin to imagine what that feels like.
The People
One thing I noticed while I was there was that everyone was so friendly. I didn’t speak to one unpleasant person the entire trip. Now, I’m not saying that people in California aren’t friendly, but this was on a whole different level. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was extremely over-the-top friendly. Whether it was a waitress or an employee at Walmart, everyone was so kind. It just seemed like every person there was having a great day regardless of where they worked.
The Stores
Okay, so like I said, I thought I was going to be in a remote area with nothing around except the necessities. Well, the shopping there was ridiculous. Keep in mind that Sioux Falls is small. You could easily get from one end to the other in about 20 minutes. In that small area there was a huge mall, a Walmart, Sam’s Club, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl’s, and so much more. The one thing that I thought was really odd, though, was how many mattress stores there were. I counted at least 8. In California, there’s a coffee shop on every corner. Apparently in Sioux Falls, there’s a mattress store on every corner.
The Falls
FullSizeRender.jpg-5While I was there, I knew I was going to have to go check out the falls. I’m so glad I did because they were beautiful. The park was all lit up for Christmas and the falls themselves were lit up, too. Unfortunately I didn’t get to walk around and enjoy it all that much because the night I wen’t happened to be the coldest night I was there (wind chill at 6 degrees), and this California girl just couldn’t handle that kind of cold.
IMG_8258.JPGThe downtown area of Sioux Falls was SO. DANG. CUTE! To me, it felt very much like the downtown area of San Luis Obispo, just on a little bit of a larger scale. It was definitely an area that I would love to walk around and explore with a hot chocolate in hand. It was also all lit up for Christmas, which probably made it even cuter to me (I’m a sucker for Christmas time).
The Real Estate
Sometimes when I’m bored, I like to go on Zillow and look at real estate in other areas. While I was in Sioux Falls, I did just that. I was shocked at how much your money can get you out there! One of the houses I found had 6 bedrooms, 5 baths, and was 2,800 square feet listed at $289,000. This was really difficult for me to wrap my head around. I knew that California was one of the more expensive places to live, but I never realized just how big that gap is compared to other areas. However, I’ve always been a firm believer in “you get what you pay for,” and there really isn’t anything that beats California weather. We are so lucky to live in a state where you can go to the beach, hiking and skiing all in the same day if you want.