Witness to the White House
As the nation transitions to a new presidency, Tuba Ahmed, a third-year student at the University of Virginia School of Law, will return to her classes this semester with tales from the previous one.
Ahmed was a fall intern in the White House's Office of General Counsel — which she called "the opportunity of a lifetime." She was the only UVA student to intern in the final months of Barack Obama's last term.
The Alexandria, Virginia, native researched legal issues affecting executive branch policymaking, supported the office’s work on clemency and criminal justice issues, assisted on matters relating to congressional oversight of the administration, drafted ethics-related guidance for White House officials and assisted with the vetting of candidates for nomination to the federal judiciary. She earned academic credit for her work through the UVA Law Externships Program.
She said the experience was enhanced by watching top lawyers in action: "I got to watch the best lawyers in the world do what they do best. There isn’t a better legal lesson than that."
Ahmed said despite the lively work atmosphere, the results of November's election, with its obvious policy implications, weighed heavily on her co-workers.
"Following the election, staffers were clearly devastated," Ahmed said. "There was resounding silence throughout the complex, which was really strange to witness because it is otherwise unbelievably hectic, as people grappled with the fact that their hard work over eight years could be unraveled."
But she said the collective mood didn't stay down for long.
"I expected the mood to remain somber from the day after the election throughout the transition, but it was incredible to witness people bounce back just a few days later, work just as hard as they did before the election and quickly reprioritize to focus on areas in which they could still make an impact," she said.
Ahmed's internship experience included getting to shake the president's hand and stand next to him in an intern group photo, as well as attending question-and-answer sessions with Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama.
"I tried to remain composed about the fact that I had just told the leader of the free world the correct pronunciation of my name," she said. "The meeting with President Obama, and the Q&A sessions with the vice president and first lady will forever be the most insightful and inspiring moments of my life."
After one monthly meeting in the counsel's office in the West Wing — "which, by itself, was amazing," Ahmed said — she even got to have a personal moment with the vice president. Biden was standing at the bottom of the steps to the office.
"He stayed and chatted with a group of us for an extended period of time, and I had to pinch myself because my life involved casual run-ins with the vice president," she said.
Ahmed applied for the internship opportunity last year around finals. Her interview with White House staff and attorneys took place in May. A month later she got the good news, and began work in September.
She credited the advice and support of numerous people in landing the internship, including UVA Law professor Doug Ford, James Madison University professor Julie Sorge Way, fellow third-years Andrew Manns and Michele Trichler, and former UVA White House interns. "A great group of people rallied around me," she said.
After graduation, Ahmed will join the London office of Latham & Watkins as a member of the capital markets group. She worked for Latham's Washington, D.C., office in her first year as a law student, and said the firm was also influential in her application.