(Editor’s note: This story is from the May 2016 issue of GCU Today Magazine. To view the digital version of the magazine, click here.)
Story by Jeannette Cruz
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU Today Magazine
Arizona Sen. John McCain arrives at Grand Canyon University Arena for a night of basketball, and a group of his interns, all GCU students, huddle around him as though they’ve done this before.
McCain gathers his thoughts to tell them about his busy day — he has attended several events in the Valley and taken part in a political conference call — but he says he’s well aware they’ve been busy, too. Almost effortlessly, he commends them for their hard work, then talks with each student one by one.
“To me, they’ve been inspirational,” McCain says. “They are enthusiastic, they are committed, and that has been one of the most uplifting experiences of all of my time in public office. They are the key to the future of any political party, and having them engaged is not only important to this campaign, but future campaigns.”
No wonder the 31 students love working for McCain at his spacious campaign headquarters in central Phoenix, a venture they began in October. Sure, they enjoy the new friendships and bonds they’ve made, the free campaign swag, and even the sugar loads. But the best part is getting to know McCain personally.
“McCain is like our grandpa — he’s fun, he’s talkative and he tells a lot of grandpa jokes,” says Brenda Crawford, a junior Justice Studies major. “The more I spend time with him and learn about him, the more I appreciate all of the work that he does.”
Freshman Colson Franse says he finds the senator’s personal stories encouraging.
“One story we got to hear was about how McCain spent over five years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam — it was very difficult to hear about it, but it is also very heartfelt how he fought for our country and still continues to serve it,” Franse says. “It is phenomenal to see a man with his character and his integrity.”
Lots to do
From making calls to answering phones, collecting data, recruiting, managing digital content and implementing projects throughout the week, sophomore Cathleen Daly says there is never a dull day at McCain’s headquarters.
“Every day going into the office I know it’s going to be different, and that’s what I like most about it,” she says.
But, at the end of the day, the interns share a similar objective: to spread McCain’s message and, above all, gain political support from the millennial generation.
On Saturday mornings, the interns huddle at the headquarters — sporting McCain sunglasses and T-shirts and fueled by soda, candy and chips. They pull out their smart phones to check the updated Walk Book application in their devices before splitting up into teams, jumping in their cars and driving off to collect signatures from voters.
Franse, who has a passion for business and politics and dreams of running for the U.S. Senate someday, says he quickly learned that the best way to get involved in politics is to get involved in a campaign because of the hands-on experience.
“From grassroots to meeting state representatives to making a lot of connections, there are so many different outlets through which you can gain so much experience in this internship,” he says.
Crawford also is no political newcomer. She has been around politics her whole life, including taking part in rallies with her family and volunteering in campaigns.
“It frustrates me that the younger generation doesn’t know anything about politics — it’s kind of scary,” Crawford says. “Even if someone doesn’t vote for our political candidate, it’s just the idea of being involved in politics that I am really grateful for.”
While collecting signatures can be interesting, it is also one of the interns’ most difficult tasks. At the same rate that voters gracefully offer interns bottled water and cheerfully express how much they like McCain, they also shut their doors and taunt them, said sophomore Chelsea Evans.
“With politics shaping our world, as a political intern you learn to grow thick skin,” she says. “It’s easy to see a political candidate standing up on stage and running for a position. It’s easy to sign the ballot and vote, but after actually being in a campaign you definitely gain a lot of empathy and knowledge about those who get to work underneath them.”
Evans, who is from Washington, says it’s important for an out-of-state student to feel a sense of fellowship.
“I came here not knowing anything or anyone, and this campaign team has allowed me to make new friends and meet people who are encouraging and motivated to make a difference in the local community,” she says.
McCain is confident they will continue to make a difference. “There is nothing to match this experience,” McCain says. “But I know for a fact that many of them will consider seeking public office after having been involved in this campaign, and that’s an important factor for the future of American politics.”
Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.