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Students reflect on convention experiences

Date: 9/26/2012

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD — Students from Westfield State University (WSU) attended the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, through an opportunity from The Washington Center (TWC) where students spent one week in an academic setting learning about the election process and the second week participating in fieldwork while at the convention.

Rachel Cardin, Brittany Moniz and Stephanie Close attended the program from Aug. 18 to Aug. 31 at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Tampa, Fla.

Eric Beaulieu, Nicholas Smarra and Juan Gonzalez attended the Democratic National Convention (DNC) from Aug. 25 to Sept. 7 in Charlotte, N.C.

Cardin and Moniz interned with CNN; Close with CNN EspaƱol; Smarra with access control at the DNC; Gonzalez with the Democratic National Convention Committee; and Beaulieu with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office.

Moniz, class of 2014 and a political science and communication major, described her experience as "eye-opening." In addition to being a resident assistant (RA), she also serves as the president of her class, is a member of the Student Government Association and is a student ambassador for WSU.

The sheer magnitude of the RNC surprised her. "I saw the whole picture [which even TV doesn't encompass]," she said. "It helped me understand why we still have conventions. I would encourage others to attend, whether they are interested in politics, or just want to learn more — regardless of their background or major. I gained really beneficial interpersonal skills."

Once back at WSU, Moniz took to the halls of the dormitories. "I went around asking students if they were registered to vote," she stated. If not, I had registration forms ready for them to complete. I was surprised that some students weren't interested because 'I don't like politics.' In my opinion, this is our country and we have to take care of it."

Cardin, a senior and another political science and communications double-major, described the seminar as "an experience of a lifetime" and greatly appreciated the real life skills she acquired while there.

What was most impressed upon Cardin was the realness of the politicians. "Mitt Romney is a dad and a husband first and a presidential candidate second," she said. "There were many speakers [not televised] that had personal stories [of Romney] who were neighbors, etc. that demonstrated the human side of Romney."

Cardin was also struck by the enormity of the convention. "Living though it is so different than watching it on TV," said Cardin. "To be able to be part of it that was the coolest part."

Smarra, a freshman and political science major, found the DNC "interesting," but at times thought it seemed disorganized. "In hindsight, I found the amount of security surprising, jaw dropping [actually]," he noted. "I was told not to be nervous and to remember that they [the politicians] are people too, so I didn't fret about it."

Close, graduating class of 2013 and a double major in political science and history, enjoyed the behind-the-curtain look. "I was able to learn about the entire process, including how to become a delegate and what occurs at conventions," she said. "From a media perspective, I saw what they pull to show the public — it definitely makes a difference which channel you watch."

Close was inspired by Sen. Marco Rubio's speech and valued the insight she gained during the two weeks. "It [the experience] really means so much" she added. "It means a lot to know that all the bad things we [the public] hear about politicians, isn't true."

Gonzalez, class of 2014 and a political science major with a concentration in international studies, described the DNC as "a once in a lifetime experience." Previously, he attended the Massachusetts State Democratic Convention in July.

"I noticed the behind-the-scenes effort," Gonzalez said. "I saw the rehearsing of speeches. Everything was scripted. It was interesting to see how the media selected and organized their coverage."

He added, "There was nothing I was disappointed with. I had a great experience. I learned that when a community comes together, they have success whether for a convention or another project."

Beaulieu, a senior and psychology major with a minor in political science, enjoyed being part of "history in the making." One of the most memorable events of the convention was hearing former President Bill Clinton's speech. In addition, he plans to run for City Council in Chicopee, his hometown, sometime in the future.

"Clinton gets everyone on the same page and fired up," Beaulieu said. "He brings himself to our level — he's very real."

Beaulieu described the experience. " The velocity with that number of people was like being in an airport, running to catch your next flight," he said. "It was like that all day. Everything was new and exciting."

He added, "I learned how to be independent — you control your own destiny. No matter what the task, you figure out how to do it."

From the students' perspective, one of the major shortcomings of the program was the limited access they had during the convention. While many had brief encounters with political figures including Sen. Scott Brown, former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, Senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Sen. John Kerry, none were afforded the opportunity to speak at length with them.

However, many of the local and state politicians did take the time to speak to the students directly, for instance Massachusetts House Minority Leader Bradley Jones took time at the delegate breakfast to converse with the students. All participants agreed that regardless of the time restrictions, every person they spoke with was genuinely interested and offered advice for their futures in politics.

Overall, the students enjoyed their time at the programs and all agreed that the knowledge they gained in the two-week period was more than any book could ever teach them. Each student would attend future conventions, but some would only return as delegates.

All recommended others attend the conventions, whether or not they are interested in politics because the knowledge gained from taking part in the inner workings of the political process is invaluable. Every student expressed his or her gratitude for the opportunity and for the support from WSU.

TWC provides students in the U.S. opportunities of employment and education in Washington, D.C. through its internships and seminars. More than 2,500 pupils have attended this program since 1984. For more information go to,

Dylan Welsted and Jonathan Mercurio also participated in the program, but were unavailable for comment.