"Yes She Can: 10 Stories of Hope & Change from Young Female Staffers of the Obama White House," discussion with four of the book's contributors, 2 p.m. Sunday, Penrose Library, 20 N. Cascade Ave., free; 531-6333, ppld.librarymarket.com/yes-she-can-book-event
Don’t succumb to impostor syndrome. Show up and be fully present. And be an advocate for yourself, so you can be an advocate for others.
This is the well-earned advice from young women who worked in the Obama White House. Their voices are in the book “Yes She Can: 10 Stories of Hope & Change from Young Female Staffers of the Obama White House,” an anthology of stories from 10 women who were in their 20s when they joined former President Barack Obama’s administration.
Four of them — Eleanor Celeste, Molly Dillon, Jenna Brayton and Noemie Levy — will be at Penrose Library on Sunday for a free panel discussion and Q&A session.
Vivian Graubard’s interest in politics and public service flourished as a high school sophomore, when she spent every afternoon after school in her state senator’s office. That enthusiasm came after she spent much time in Latin America, where her family is from, and learned that other countries aren’t as amenable to public participation in government and public service.
She started work in the White House at 21 and spent six years helping to improve digital services and working to fight sexual assault on college campuses and human trafficking.
“I was surprised by the extent that you are able to raise your hand and participate and step into as much as you want to,” said Graubard, now director of strategy for New America’s Public Interest Technology.
“There was no micro-manager telling you what you could and couldn’t do. If you have an interest in a policy area, you look up who’s in charge and figure out how to team up with them. There was no blueprint; it was a chart-your-own path.”
Jamie Woo, a policy analyst in the vice president’s office at age 24 and 25, said she was surprised by how strongly Obama and the rest of his administration believed in young people.
“People who ran the White House were young, hungry and ambitious staffers who didn’t stop at anything to get stuff done. The fact that I was allowed to see all the materials of Vice President Joe Biden, and managed his briefing box and I was 24 — their trust in young people was miraculous,” said Woo, who now works at Breakwater Studios, a production and filmmaking studio dedicated to humanist storytelling.
Both women speak glowingly about their former bosses. Graubard got to work in the Oval Office with Obama a number of times and came away with a deep respect for him and appreciation for his listening skills and ability to sit back and absorb information.
“He’d take a beat and sit in silence until he understood it,” she said.
“He was the smartest person in the room because he was willing to listen and learn from someone he trusted. We’re always learning and strongest as a team when we’re playing off each other’s strengths.”
Woo, who worked on Biden’s Cancer Moonshot initiative, health and LGBTQ policy, and his Violence Against Women team, remembers her first one-on-one with him. They were aboard Air Force Two when he asked to see her.
“He was interested in how cancer worked in the body, and I’d done tons of research,” she said. “He wanted to talk to me. That was such a testament to his leadership and trust.”
Woo said she knew nothing about politics as a teenager. But during college, she discovered a passion for working on female empowerment and leadership and combating sexual assault. As a 24-year-old walking into the White House with no policy expertise, she said, she had an enormous case of imposter syndrome, with its accompanying feelings of not being smart or worthy enough to be there.
“I challenge women to remind themselves that you did not get there by random,” Woo said. “You didn’t happen to walk into the White House. Someone chose you, and if you trust in your bosses who chose you, you believe in yourself. As long as we can remind ourselves we were chosen for a reason and a particular perspective, it can give young women more comfort that they can belong. I wish someone had told me that on my first day.”
Contact the writer: 636-0270