Recently I saw a video of Hillary Clinton speaking at the Women in Pubic Service Project Institute. The WPSP is working to increase the number of women in political and civic leadership. They’re looking for strong, smart women who aren’t afraid to take the helm in improving our world. After talking to her for just a few minutes, I knew they’re looking for young women like Alyssa Ray.
Living in DC, I’ve met a lot of intelligent people, which you think would be great, except it seems like some of them want you to know just how intelligent they are. People start talking about paradigm shifts and social capital, and I have to ask if we’re still talking about beer. I’ve never had so many political science terms hurled at me while discussing the latest seasonal brew. Alyssa, on the other hand, is nothing like that. She has a grace about her that allows her intelligence to show through without being, well, an arrogant jerk. Maybe it’s because she’s lived in Japan and Paris, as well as all over the US, but there’s a poise to her that allows her to balance intelligence and an easy going, down to earth quality perfectly. She makes complicated policy seem as appealing as happy hour. It’s easy to see why the White House wanted her on their team.
As a White House intern in the Office of Public Engagement Alyssa worked with the disability and young Americans constituencies. While on the surface they may not have a lot in common, Alyssa saw a similar thread in working with these two groups – providing equal opportunity.
Whether it’s providing young Americans with the opportunity for an education and brighter future through college affordability or ensuring that the disabled have equal opportunity in the workforce, Alyssa sees her future serving others.
“I would love to go into public service,” said Alyssa. “My passions right now are civil rights and equal opportunity employment, particularly after working on disability outreach and advocacy. I’m very passionate about going in that direction.”
Alyssa believes women should take chances and apply for positions, even if they’re not sure they meet the qualifications, as long as they’re passionate about what they’re doing.
“What I’ve found is that passion is such a key ingredient,” said Alyssa. “If you’re passionate about something don’t let anyone discourage you from it, even if there’s a lot of negative opinions. Just take risks, go for what you believe in.”
Passion has allowed Alyssa to persevere in the face of adversity. At 14 she was diagnosed with lupus and reacted negatively to medication. She became paralyzed and now must use a wheelchair. She says adaptability and resilience are two skills she’s had to pick up.
“I’m a very confident person because of what I’ve gone through,” said Alyssa. “I know I can pretty much deal with any crazy situation that comes my way and figure out how to achieve goals that a lot of people may tell me ‘hey this is a really complicated situation’. It doesn’t concern me at all because I’ve been through a lot already, and I’m just a very confident person.”
She’s a lady after my own heart, and not just because she loves football and Mexican food, but because of that confidence. Shaking her hand I hope some of it rubs off on me they way it seems the different cultures and experiences of Alyssa’s life have rubbed off on her. I see them when she speaks, those little bits of acquired intelligence and strength, all coming together in the kind of woman we all want to be.
And on top of that she’s an incredibly hard worker, often putting in 12-hour days at the White House. She did it, though, because she loves interacting with the public and being there to help them.
“The biggest thing I learned was that the small things do really make a difference,” said Alyssa. “We had such an influx of people coming to the White House that had never really been to DC before or even talked to someone in an administrative position, and just five minutes of my time made the world to them.”
Just as the small things can make a positive impact, they are also the things that sometimes stand in the way of equal opportunity for the disability community, Alyssa says. “It’s small things that I don’t think the community always thinks about, whether there’s one little step to get into a door or there’s a button on the door to make it accessible,” said Alyssa. “I thinking that’s something that more needs to be done about, even with the laws that have been put into place, just making sure that everything is accessible, particularly with all the veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s such an important issue to make everything an equal opportunity for all Americans.”
She’s been out of college less than a year, but Alyssa’s already an incredibly accomplished woman. But if she had been born in another time, being a woman or in wheelchair may have prevented her from doing all she has. Instead she’s had the opportunity to work hard and use her confidence and intelligence to get the job done. That’s all she wants to provide others, an opportunity to succeed on their own merits.
Talking to Alyssa you know that because of women like her there will one day be more opportunities not just for Young Americans, disabled Americans, and American women, but for all Americans. With women like her in public service there will be no limit to what we can achieve together, because everyone will have the opportunity to work together.
Women Working to Do Good is a series that Hello Giggles and the White House have been collaborating on. We will bring you stories of women in communities across the United States who we think are stars in their own right. Whether they are young entrepreneurs, active community organizers, or making a difference in a single life or community, we think these women are amazing and want to share their stories with you! Each story will also be featured on the White House blog, and we are working together to bring more strong female role models to the forefront.
If there is a woman in your community who you think should be honored in this series, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Images courtesy of Alyssa Ray