By Kenna Caprio
Within a week of one another, both Jaclyn Recchia and Daniel Palmer experienced an, “Is this really happening?” moment. Each while on a convention floor, no less.
While listening to Ann Romney speak at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, and anticipating Governor Chris Christie’s speech, Recchia remembers saying to herself, “‘Don’t ever forget this moment. This is amazing what you’re seeing. Your governor is going to come out to speak. You should be so proud of where you come from.’ I just felt very privileged to be there and I felt so proud of my party, proud of my country.”
A week later at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Palmer could relate. “I was extremely close to the stage the night when the first lady spoke. I had to pinch myself, thinking, ‘How did I get here?’ I knew that if I had gone to another school I might not have ended up on the convention floor.
“It’s probably one of the best experiences that I’ve had at FDU,” he says.
The two College at Florham students won the right to attend the national conventions as interns after competing in a trivia night hosted by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s political science department.
In the spring of 2012, The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars — a nonprofit that places students in opportunities across all disciplines in Washington, D.C. and London, England — contacted FDU. “An FDU alum put up some money for two students to go work at the RNC and DNC,” explains Krista Jenkins, political science professor and executive director of PublicMind. “He put up half and FDU put up the rest.”
About 15 students attended the trivia game — open to political science majors only — in hopes of landing the coveted internships.
Structured similarly to the board game Trivial Pursuit, students had to answer questions on topics including political theory; the three branches; shock, scandal and assassination; and comparative politics. The first two contestants to answer a question correctly in all four categories would win.
“I didn’t even want to think about the prospect of getting to go because it seemed so unlikely to me,” recalls Recchia. “The odds of me getting to go down there were just not in my favor.”
Luckily, following several rounds, Palmer and Recchia both scored big when they answered questions on Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s view of man and the Anita Hill scandal, respectively.
Both students felt ecstatic following their wins and immediately began making convention plans.
“I contacted the N.J. Democratic State Committee (because I knew) that’s where I could network and meet the most people,” Palmer says. From greeting delegates and making sure they received credentials, to checking names off lists at pre- and post-convention parties, Palmer met the entire N.J. delegation by the end of the week. And, after a chance encounter with another Democratic supporter, Palmer found himself with a ticket to a fundraiser for Vice President Joe Biden. “He gave a little rally speech and was shaking hands,” says Palmer. “It was an honor to meet him.”
Meanwhile, Recchia accepted a position on the Committee on Arrangements — a group formed by the RNC to ensure the convention runs smoothly.“I worked with a woman whose job on the committee was to organize the arrangements for disabled delegates and guests,” says Recchia. “I was responsible for escorting these delegates and guests within the secure perimeter of the forum.”
During her downtime, Recchia had the chance to met Republican Senate candidate Elizabeth Emken, who is challenging Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein in California this fall. Emken gave her business card to Recchia and the women later exchanged Tweets. Recchia also had the opportunity to talk to and snap a photo with Dana Perino, former President George W. Bush’s press secretary, and Bill O’Reilly, Fox News anchor.
“It was nice to have a conversation with people who are like-minded, and see why they thought that way,” Recchia says of speaking to other interns, politicians and delegates about their Republican positions.
When it comes to how they formed their own political views, Palmer and Recchia can both point to conversations with family.
“I grew up in a family that talked about current events a lot, sitting at the dinner table,” says Palmer. His family discussed, “what was going on in the world and country” and he remembers always watching the conventions and State of the Union addresses on television.
“I think this election more than any other election really affects my generation for the next 30 or 40 years,” says Palmer. Some of the issues that stand out to him include college loans, women’s rights, same-sex rights and the federal budget deficit.
For Recchia, chief concerns are the Affordable Care Act and job creation.
“I talked to my dad a lot. He is a small business owner and Republican. We would just talk about the differences, fundamentally, between Democrats and Republicans,” says Recchia. “He just has sincere, genuine concerns about people who start their own businesses and who want to make a good living for their family.”
The way she sees it, the country is currently “stuck.” “We haven’t seen the job growth that I think we need to see,” she explains. “The healthcare bill hasn’t taken full effect yet, so I don’t think people necessarily realize the effect it’s going to have on their life and healthcare.”
Despite their differences in political ideology, both Recchia and Palmer point to the importance of voting as a top priority.
As president of the Student Government Association, Palmer is working on campus to get more students registered to vote. “A lot of these underclassman didn’t graduate from high school with the ability to vote in 2008. It’s just so vital look at what’s going on around the world — people are fighting for the right to do things we can do. It’s really important as a student leader to encourage that and going to the DNC just further instilled that in my mind.”
Involved in efforts off campus, Recchia devotes her time to the Morris County Republicans.
“I’m on the county committee in Montville, N.J. and was elected in June,” says Recchia. “My responsibility is to make sure that the people in my district know when to vote, and make sure they come out to the polls.
“I’m just such a supporter of voting,” she continues. “It’s our responsibility and it’s such a privilege. I encourage people to familiarize themselves with the candidate and the issues so that they can make an informed decision.”
Professor Jenkins agrees, “You need robust participation to claim effective representation in a democracy.” And, to further that participation amongst college students, Jenkins hopes that the University will be able to support sending students to the 2016 conventions.
“It was an absolutely incredible opportunity and it let our University even further separate itself from other small universities,” says Palmer. “It just adds to all the other great things that we offer here (at FDU).”