Report by Jessica Hillyard,
Intern at the Polish American Congress office in Washington DC
This year’s ACPC Youth Leadership Conference was a wonderful experience for
me, as I am sure it was for the other participants. The opportunity to learn
more about what constitutes leadership from various Washington-based Polish
Americans holding leadership positions was quite unique and informative. Most of
all, the week gave me an idea of what kinds of careers are available in
Washington and in other parts of the United States and the world, that relate
not only to my area of study—Political Science—but also involve collaboration
with the Polish American community and emphasize international involvement. The
conference gave me the desire to focus on international relations and possibly
attend graduate school in this field. It also allowed me the chance to create
contacts with several of the professionals we visited, which may be invaluable
when I begin my job search.
Beyond what the conference inspired in me personally, it also provided an up-close look into what is going on in Washington. I look forward to any opportunity in which I can learn more about current events, especially those occurring abroad, and the professionals with whom we met presented a range of issues with which they deal on a daily basis. For example, one of the most interesting visits for me was learning about the involvement of Chemonics International in international development projects abroad, such as in Afghanistan and South America. It offered an inside look at the U.S. government’s allocation of development and reconstruction projects through contracts with American companies.
Meeting with various employees at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland, we learned about how Poland and the United States deal with one another on a diplomatic basis, and what issues the Embassy is now working on, like the Polish Visa Waiver legislation currently in Congress. We also had the opportunity to visit the U.S. Department of Commerce to see how international aspects are worked into U.S. government agencies. In these meetings we really got a sense of how leadership positions can be intertwined with important domestic and international policy.
While some of the speakers concentrated on what they do in their respective organizations, others detailed their particular paths to success. A few of the more interesting stories were told by Mark Brzezinski, partner at McGuireWoods, and Radek Sikorski, Resident Fellow and Executive Director of the New Atlantic Initiative with the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. They described how they achieved educational success, and discussed the jobs that led them to their current positions. For example, Mr. Sikorski had the opportunity to participate in the Solidarity movement in his native Poland before attending university in Britain and later becoming a war correspondent in Afghanistan and Angola. His narrative provided proof that one need not follow a cut-and-dried journey from college into the workforce, but rather may steer into areas that are of particular interest to him or her. Certainly, what Mr. Sikorski has done in the past has made his perspective quite unique, and therefore makes him a natural leader. Mr. Brzezinski was a speaker of special intrigue to me, partly because he has managed to become a player in the U.S. government as part of the Clinton administration, but also because he so fervently believes in the need to develop an international perspective in all aspects of life.
Another of the week’s highlights was our discussion with Deputy Director of Presidential Speechwriting, Mark Thiessen. He told us about how he arrived at his current position and talked a lot about what his high-stress, high-influence job entails. It was quite fascinating to meet with a person of Polish heritage who plays such an important supporting role to the President on a daily basis. Mr. Thiessen is, in essence, a source of what the American people and people all over the world hear from the President. It was really an honor to be able to talk to such an influential person.
As a whole, the past week has provided me with a lot of insight not only into what goes on in Washington, but also how Polish Americans can have an impact on our country. The key lesson I learned throughout the week was that I, too, can offer something to the United States and to the world as a Polish American if I so desire and can have the chance to become a leader in the future. The professionals whom we had the pleasure to meet are models for my generation and serve as examples of what can be achieved through hard work and determination.