2018-02-14 / Featured / Front Page

James River grad speaks on internship in Trump's White House


Anita Ross, who attended James River High School’s leadership program, recently completed an internship at the White House. 
PHOTO BY JORDAN DECAPRIO Anita Ross, who attended James River High School’s leadership program, recently completed an internship at the White House. PHOTO BY JORDAN DECAPRIO The mother’s scream rang out in the night. Fleeing bombs and bullets in war-torn Afghanistan, the woman had been forced to run while carrying her newborn in her arms. Now, there was just an empty blanket.

“At some point during the running, she had dropped her baby,” recalls Anita Ross of her former neighbor. Ross, also running for her life, was just 5 or 6 at the time. “I don’t remember if they went back to find the baby. I have no idea how that story ends.”

The incident was just the beginning of a nine-day journey that would see Ross and her family trek through mountains and rivers to immigrate illegally to Pakistan in 1992. Adding to their difficulty was the fact that Ross’ mother had given birth to her youngest sister just three days before the journey.

Even in Pakistan, safety was only nominally improved at first; upon making it to a refugee camp, they found that children – especially girls – disappeared in the middle of the night to be sold into human trafficking.

Since those days of danger and uncertainty, Ross, 29, has accomplished much: She’s earned three degrees, including a master’s in international studies from Old Dominion University. She’s achieved fluency in five languages, and is conversational in two more. And last fall, the James River High grad interned at the White House, helping with event planning for the Office of the First Lady. Every time a challenge presents itself, it seems, Ross finds a way.

Ross and her family first came to the United States in 1999 after a lengthy visa process. Ross’ grandmother and aunt had immigrated decades earlier and settled near Brandermill, so her family came to Chesterfield.

Though conditions improved considerably, that didn’t mean life was easy. Because they came to the United States as sponsored immigrants, Ross’ family didn’t receive much in the way of financial assistance from the government. She and her mother worked hard to provide for their family.

“I started working at a young age alongside my mother,” Ross says. “There were times where she had three, four jobs and I had to take care of my brothers and sisters, my own schoolwork, and on top of that a full- or part-time job.”

Ross attended James River High’s leadership program while holding jobs alternately babysitting, cleaning houses and working at Walmart and Subway. Unsure of what career path to follow, Ross obtained an associate’s degree in liberal arts from John Tyler Community College and a bachelor’s from Averett University. Through this time, she held down full-time jobs while attending school full-time, including working as director of development for Special Olympics Virginia.

She moved to Hampton Roads to attend ODU, graduating seven months ago. While attending the school, her friend Lorraine Waddill recommended that she apply for an internship in the Trump White House. Though she doesn’t describe herself as a political person and didn’t think she’d get it, Ross applied anyway.

From a pool of thousands of applicants, Ross was one of about 100 accepted for the September-through-December time period last year. She worked for the Office of the First Lady, which oversees all social events hosted by the White House.

Everything related to creating events – from sending invitations to working out logistics to making Christmas decorations – was under Ross’ purview, including state dinners and diplomatic visits. The largest event she helped put together was the black-tie congressional holiday ball, which 1,200 people attended.

Working an unpaid internship in Washington, D.C., wasn’t easy either, and Ross had to rely on her savings and help from her family to make it work. A fellow ODU alum provided free room and board during the internship.

Given the Trump administration’s rhetoric regarding immigrants, Ross says she’s fielded plenty of questions about working for the White House. At the end of the day, she says, her internship was about gaining experience and representing the country.

“I knew going into it that whatever my views and political beliefs are, I needed to put them aside,” Ross says. “For me, it didn’t matter if Donald Trump was in the office, or Hillary Clinton, or Barney the Dinosaur. For me, the White House was the White House, and I was there to get experience.” For those who want to hear more about her internship, Ross will be speaking on Feb. 19 at Candela’s Pizzeria and Ristorante Italiano in Midlothian. The talk will be hosted by the Huguenot Republican Women’s Club. Though the event is free, an RSVP is requested.

“To be an intern at the White House is huge,” says Dee Dee Van Buren, president of the club. “There are thousands of applications. I really look forward to hearing her story.”

The talk came about through Ross’ friend Waddill, whom Ross lived with during college. Waddill is a member of the group, and previously hosted a talk where Ross spoke about Afghanistan.

Since the White House, Ross has been living in Newport News, and has been on the job hunt, hoping to land a position in the public or private sector in some international capacity.

Regarding the current political climate, Ross strikes a note of optimism befitting of someone who’s been through a lot.

“If we work together and put our differences aside, we can accomplish a lot more,” Ross says. “Be open to change. Change doesn’t have to be bad. Change can be difficult, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.” ¦

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