By: Moha Trivedi
I was woken by the sound of my blaring alarm as I rubbed my eyes and hesitantly checked the time: 6:45 AM. Immediately falling back into bed, my mind raced with all the thoughts I had been thinking about since I was accepted as a New Jersey Leadership Program (NJLP) Fellow. Is this internship going to be a great experience or one of the worst I have ever had? Am I even qualified to be a fellow? What if the group of fellows hate me, or even worse, just do not talk about anything other than politics or their job? Checking the clock once again, I dragged myself out of bed and got dressed in my business professional attire, wondering why I was doing this program.
Intimidated as I was walking into the Hoagland Longo Law Firm in New Brunswick, I was disarmed by the warm smiles of our Program Directors Amit Jani and Vinay Limbachia, who greeted me and introduced themselves at the door. However, this intimidation returned as all eight of the fellows piled onto couches on the main floor, waiting to be called down to begin the day. The best way to describe the encounter would probably be long bouts of awkward silence splattered with forced conversation, but these emotions did not last long at all. After completing the obligatory introductions including name, grade, school, and placement, the recent news of Kawhi Leonard’s trade became the new topic of conversation! This time to ourselves as a cohort served as the first and arguably the most important icebreaker we had throughout the day as that was our first connection as a group.
Regarding the day itself, it was long and tiring, but informative and fun. Starting with a breakfast where we were pushed not to eat in awkward silence, we listened to numerous speakers and respected individuals who were eager to share their knowledge and experiences with us. Beginning the day’s speakers with Middlesex County Freeholder Kenneth Armwood, we were inspired through his comedic and very personal storytelling style. Hearing about a government official’s journey firsthand was impactful, especially because he did not emerge into his position in the stereotypical way someone enters government.
The lesson on New Jersey government from Kristian Stout was not a lecture about facts like I expected, rather an open discussion about the power of counties in New Jersey vs other states and how small towns actually carry a large impact among many other topics. Learning from Internship Coordinators from Congressman Frank Pallone Jr’s office, Alex Maldonado and Dawn Rebscher, provided us their firsthand experience about what to realistically expect from our internship. But more importantly, we learned how we should behave and present ourselves to be the best interns we possibly could. I believed this to be especially helpful because we were hearing tips from individuals who were the supervisors of interns themselves. This was followed by an engaging hands on presentation about professionalism in the workplace by Priya Gopal, who helped us identify what made us all unique and key assets to an office.
Personally, I found that the NJLP Alumni Panel to be one of the most interesting parts of the day. The panel consisted of former NJLP Fellows throughout the last four years; Meet Patel, Eshika Kaul, Aadi Kulkarni, and Gita Ganti, who were all open and excited to share their experiences and honest opinions about their internship and the fellowship program. They encouraged us to ask questions, be honest, and gave us valuable advice about not only how to be successful in the upcoming six weeks, but how we should continue to use the skills and knowledge gained in that time for the rest of our lives. Learning from a group of people who were exactly in our positions not a long time ago was refreshing as they truly understood our feelings and concerns about the big task that we had all taken on.
Throughout the day, I was honored to be part of such an amazing, intelligent, funny, and interesting group of individuals. Talking about everything from our favorite TV shows, racism in society, antitrusts (which I’m pretty sure we still do not understand) to how Elvis can emerge from an egg, a group of high-schoolers with varying interests and personalities bonded in the eight hours we spent together.
By the end of the day, my reason for participating as a Fellow in the NJLP Fellowship Program became clear once again. I wanted to enact change, be a part of something bigger than myself, learn about the inner workings and complexities of government, all while increasing and supporting South Asian representation in the governmental system of the United States. I left the law firm feeling inspired, empowered, still a little bit intimidated, but most of all excited to start my journey as a high school intern and a NJLP Youth Fellow with the new group of friends I met.