Heading for the Hill

Elizabeth Graham

Photo By Jen Donnell

While most college students have the luxury of being able to study for school in their homes or dorm rooms, Butte College graduate Elizabeth Graham spent part of her career there living at a campsite with her husband and daughter on the Feather River, doing homework and studying for finals at a picnic table. But Graham, who is 42, can’t complain—her hard work and determination to succeed landed her a spot at Chico State as well as the prestigious Panetta Institute congressional internship. The program will send her and 24 other students to Washington, D.C., for the fall semester to work with California representatives. Though leaving her family for 12 weeks will be difficult, she said the experience will help her reach her ultimate goal of being an executive director for a nonprofit organization. She will chronicle her experiences on her blog, www.graham2washington.blogspot.com.

What has helped you get through college?

A lot of support and help from my family. We have all worked together, and it has involved a lot of work and determination on the part of the entire family to just survive. Their moral support has been immensely helpful—they have always assured me that I can do this and that “this is going to happen.” They have allowed me to focus 100 percent on school, which is how I got a scholarship to Butte College, which helped me eventually get a car so that I can attend Chico State.

What are you doing to prepare for your internship?

I do a lot of research and writing at the Far West Heritage Association in Chico, and I will soon be doing more governmental affairs research, which will prepare me a lot for the job in Washington, D.C.

Why do you want to work in Congress?

Growing up, I was always taught that one person can make a difference. Everything around us has to do with government, and not a lot of people realize that. People also don’t understand that they do actually have a voice. Hopefully I can help show people that they actually can make a difference.

What do you hope to accomplish during your internship?

I want to learn how the two [branches of Congress] work. I want to actually see the process; I want to see how Congress compromises and understand the negotiations. People say politicians are all crooks who are only looking out for themselves—but I think that is absolutely untrue. They can’t think only of themselves; they have to think about their country.