Tales from a former ‘Clintern’

Leslie Schelat

Kent State student recalls semester in Washington, D.C.

Adam Sage says Sen. Hillary Clinton made an effort to get to know her interns.

Credit: Beth Rankin

Peeking out from under the right sleeve of his faded Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt are the first three letters of Adam Sage’s “awesome” tattoo.


“I wanted to be able to tell people I had an awesome tattoo,” said Sage, referring to the word embossed on his right bicep.

Not the description one might expect from a student who spent the spring semester interning with Sen. Hillary Clinton.

But that’s exactly what he did.

Sage enrolled in the Washington Program in National Issues through the political science department at Kent State. In the program, students go to Washington, D.C., for a semester and spend half of each week in seminars and lectures with different political and business figures and the other half of the week in their self-found internships.

On a long-shot, Sage applied for a position in Clinton’s office. After being offered positions at several places, he accepted an internship in social research at the Smithsonian Institution. The next day, his offer from Clinton came through.

“I called the next morning,” Sage said, noting that the internship with Clinton was his first choice.

As he set off for his first day in Clinton’s office, Sage’s adventures began. He walked into the Capitol to find a group of high school students taking a tour. Not knowing their age, Sage asked if they worked there. When they realized the misunderstanding, the students cleared the way with a chorus of “Make way! He works here!”

“I had no idea what I was doing,” Sage said with a laugh.

Eventually, he did find Clinton’s office and started learning the ways of a Washington intern.

“There are three main things an intern does: answering phones, opening mail and giving tours of the Capitol,” said Sage. “But it’s pretty intense. The better job you do there, the more responsibility you have.”

Some of those responsibilities include helping legislative aids draft bills, doing research and taking notes at hearings. Sage said these tasks are excellent opportunities for learning about potential careers and networking.

“It opens your mind to options you never knew existed,” Sage said.

Although interns in office were dubbed “Clinterns” by people both inside and outside the office, Sage said having the opportunity to work with Clinton was a worthwhile experience.

“Hillary Clinton is one of the most down-to-earth and well-spoken people I’ve met,” he said. “You’re part of the staff and you all work for her.” He pointed out that she made an effort to get to know her interns. She often had in-depth conversations with them and was willing to talk about issues that concern college students, such as rising tuition.

“She had to take out loans for college, too,” Sage said. “Neither (Hillary nor Bill) came from rich families, which makes them very interesting people.” Sage did not get to meet Bill Clinton, but did see his motorcade pass by at President Bush’s inauguration.

Attending events like the inauguration was an exciting benefit of interning in Washington. Sage had passes that allowed him to view various hearings, press conferences and attend numerous receptions.

“You’re there when all the news happens,” Sage said. He recalled a day when his mom called to ask if he’d been at the Capitol for a bomb scare. As he came around the side of the building, he saw SWAT teams and television crews.

“I walked in front of the cameras and waved at all of them,” Sage said.

Another perk of being in Washington was the free things available everywhere.

“Capitol Hill is full of free stuff!” Sage said. “There are caterers all over the Senate building.” Besides the numerous free lunches, Ben and Jerry, of the famous ice cream brand, had an awareness-boosting event and passed out ice cream and T-shirts. Calendars, chocolates and even sports drinks were likely to show up in Clinton’s office. After fainting at an event, Clinton was photographed drinking Gatorade and the company promptly sent over several cases of the beverage.

“People send weird stuff to the senators,” Sage said.

Seeing senators around the capital was not a rare occurrence, either. Sage noted that he was giving Boy Scouts a tour when Sen. John McCain walked right in front of him. He turned around and asked the scouts if they’d seen McCain, a question they responded to with blank stares.

“They didn’t know who he was!” Sage said.

Other famous faces Sage saw around Washington included Ted Kennedy, Fiona Apple, Tony Bennett and John Voight, Angelina Jolie’s dad.

“I tripped over his bag,” Sage said. “He apologized, but I was just excited to see him!”

Being in Washington wasn’t all fun and games, though. Sage said he worked hard and learned a lot about government.

“You don’t know how things work until you live there,” Sage said. “You learn to separate what’s in the media from what’s going on.”

Although it was an experience he’d never give up, interning with Clinton made Sage reconsider his future plans.

“He had been looking at law or politics,” said Sage’s mother, Luanne Sage. “Now he’s strictly into education.”

“I didn’t know what wanted to do. I didn’t realize how big (the experience) was until I came back and realized how much it changed my life,” said Sage, who now knows he wants to continue his studies in sociology and eventually earn his doctorate.

Back home, Sage’s life has not changed much. Because he starts graduate school in September, Sage is enjoying his last months off. He recently attended his 26th Dave Matthew’s Band concert, one of five this summer. A former German student, he’d one day like to return to Germany, where he attended a friend’s wedding in 2004. Until then, he’s passing his time, like many other college students, working and going to the bars with his friends.

Contact social services reporter Leslie Schelat at [email protected].