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Finding Conventional Wisdom at the RNC

John CappelloJohn Cappello '13

Even though senior John Cappello doesn't consider himself a political junkie, he was excited to spend two weeks at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Tampa, Fla. 

A history major with minors in philosophy and education, John plans to be a teacher. "I wanted to be able to teach civics from a first-hand perspective, to talk with my students about what it's really like to be part of the democratic process."

John earned a spot in The Washington Center's elite Campaign 2012 Academic Seminar Series, which enriches students' perspectives on civic engagement through participation in the conventions.  History professor Suzanne Cooper-Guasco encouraged John to apply.  "He has a mind like a sponge and I knew he'd make the most of the opportunity," she said.

John spent the week prior to the convention in a series of academic seminars, small-group discussions and site visits; all were led by former and current elected officials, government leaders and working media.  Former CNN anchor Aaron Brown and former Oklahoma Congressman Mickey Edwards were favorites.

"After a week of being in Tampa I started to recognize more of the people around me," John said.  "I'd be walking down the street and there'd be Rick Santorum or Chris Christie or Marco Rubio.  I watched Geraldo Rivera interview Newt Gingrich on the street!"

During the convention itself, John served in a volunteer fieldwork position that had him moving all over the convention district.  "I met the most interesting people," he said, including two friends from Europe who took 100 days to travel across the U.S. to document the American electoral process. 

John also managed to land a ticket to the big event: Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's acceptance speech. It was an unexpected bonus and a testament to the types of opportunities he found as a Washington Center intern. 

"A woman on the trolley asked me 'What do you think about all this?' and I guess she liked what I had to say," John reported. "She was part of the International Democratic Union and before I knew it I was their guest watching Romney deliver his keynote from inside one of the suites in the Tampa Bay Times Forum!" 

His experiences in Tampa made John reconsider his own role in the democratic process.  "Everyone we talked with reminded us that each vote really can make a difference. Today we have so much access to information, there's really no excuse for being uninformed.  All of us have to take responsibility: if we're politically aware, if we get engaged, we can be a force for change."

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