The day I learned about his death, I wrote this short personal essay about my experience working for Sen. Kennedy. I have shared it with my friends, family and the Kennedy family. I wanted to post it here, because until his death, I never fully realized how meaningful and inspirational working for him was. This seems to always be the case; paying tribute and respect to someone after they are gone. I will try to pay more real-time gratitude to those who have shaped and influenced my life.
I too, knew Ted Kennedy
In the coming days, so many of us will undoubtedly share stories about how Senator Kennedy touched our lives; either directly through a personal encounter, or through the multitude of his public policy efforts that dramatically impacted the quality of not only Massachusetts residents, but citizens across our nation. Many of you may know that I had the incredible opportunity to work as an intern for Senator Kennedy during college. While we will hear of the magnitude of accomplishments through his life of public service, I would like to share with you the less glamorous side of the daily efforts that took place within his Boston office. The staff carried his vision and dreams on their shoulders, thus enabling the thoughts and concerns of the Senator to be directly delivered to those who mattered to him most: the citizens.
My interview casually took place in Senator Kennedy’s own office, atop the JFK Federal Building which overlooks downtown Boston and the shimmering harbor beyond. Needless to say, it was intimidating to try and convey that I was a hardworking, spirited and accomplished student amidst a collage of photos of Senator Kennedy with his brothers, or the Senator standing beside every U.S. president since JFK, or simply, the Senator playing in front of his beloved Cape Cod home with his family. Surreal as it was, the energy within the office was invigorating and welcoming as if to say, “You too can serve.”
His office was not what you would except from a member of American royalty; it was simple, traditional, painted a lovely light blue and carried an ambiance of diligent, yet heartfelt work. Piles of papers adorned each desk - desks which could tell decade’s old story’s themselves. And those endless piles of papers were letters from constituents; the Massachusetts residents who were seeking Senator Kennedy’s help on such a wide variety of public and personal issues. I worked in the immigration department handling cases of pending visas, citizenship and general issues surrounding travel. The workload was heavy, as thousands of open cases resided in metal filing drawers that overflowed with personal stories of why people would like to travel to or become a citizen of the United States. As the daughter of an Irish immigrant, this cause had a very special place in my heart. Each person desperately wanted to stand on U.S. soil, and in seeking this dream, asked Senator Kennedy for help. No plea was ever left un-responded to or un-acted upon. People from all walks of life, all nations of the world, all ages, religious affiliations, income or education levels were greeted with a smile and offered an ear. Listening was an art form within his office and once the listening was done, the real work began.
I was 19 when I started working there and each time I entered the office over the course of one year, felt an energized sense than I was partaking in an American institution and doing the good work. While there were numerous cases of heart-ache over families denied citizenship, each person was eternally grateful that Senator Kennedy’s office tried to help. The simple act of listening, being heard and being validated by a champion of the people gave solace to those whose dreams were temporarily or eventually denied. And to those whose dreams were fulfilled, gratitude poured from them, even years later, as cards and tokens of thanks were saved as a reminder that the good work prevails. In Senator Kennedy’s office I learned that no policy issue goes unaffected – that every decision made by leaders will touch someone directly. It was my honor to help constituents, and in times of pain, comfort them by reassuring that the Senator will echo and fight for their unheard voice.
Glamorous the office was not; noble and sincere it was. My greatest memories while working there were not of meeting the Senator, shaking his hand, having lunches together, talking policy with staff, writing letters on his behalf to hundreds of agencies and people, or standing in photographs with smiling prestigious faces. My mind goes to the images of serving as an ear to those who needed help and this will be the enduring mass-memory of our beloved Lion through the ages, to be reverberated in history books. I am blessed to have served in this capacity, to work under his iconic name, to have been humbled by the gratitude of thousands, and to have had the opportunity to live the American dream of serving this great nation. Senator Kennedy, I cannot thank you enough for offering a hand of help and ear of compassion, and allowing me to represent you to your public. It will be my responsibility and honor to continue the tradition of listening, helping and offering comfort, just as you made it your life’s work to do so.