Dierdre Ely ’17, Veterans Campaign

Deirdre-ElyOur first president, George Washington, once said “when we assumed the soldier, we did not lay aside the citizen.” That is the credo of Veterans Campaign, the nonprofit political startup where I spent three days of my Spring Break. Founded in 2010 at Princeton by Seth Lynn *10 WWS, then a captain in the Marine Corps, with the help of other senior military officers then at Princeton, Veterans Campaign aims to increase the number of veterans serving as elected officials within U.S. government. The ethos behind this work? While many veterans possess both the interest and the leadership skills to make effective and successful public officers, most don’t have the requisite knowledge of our political system they need in order to make that jump to that different kind of service and therefore are unable to do so. That is where Veterans Campaign comes in. Through the workshops it organizes, Veterans Campaign teaches veterans about campaign strategy and U.S. politics, giving them the knowhow on how to get elected, a strategy which has worked for many of the workshop’s alumni.

I was lucky enough to be shadowing Princeton alum, Norm Bonnyman ‘12, a former member of the Princeton ROTC organization who had been heavily involved in the founding of Veterans Campaign as an undergraduate, and who now works under Seth Lynn, now the organization’s Director, as the Chief of Staff. As Veterans Campaign is still in its infancy Seth and Norm are currently the only two permanent employees, which meant that I was able to interact directly with the two people at the top of the organization’s ladder, giving me a greater look into the inside workings of a political non-profit. However as Veterans Campaign is tied to the Center for Second Service at the George Washington University’s Institute for Public Policy there are often other people around the office, most of whom who are former-military men now studying at GW itself.

My first day was short butEly 3 sweet. After taking the Metro to Foggy Bottom, I met up with Norm at Veterans Campaign’s offices, which were across from the legendary Watergate Complex, on Monday afternoon. Once there, he introduced me to Seth and then took me through the basic history of the organization, starting from a single-day workshop for veterans at Princeton to its incorporation into a start-up. Finally, because of my experience with the Adobe design suite, Norm gave me an assignment: to design a new logo for the organization that could be used for all manner of branding purposes, including on the website.

The second day Norm took me into the nuts and bolts of creating a start-up, from finding the idea, to filing the paperwork, to working out the legal and monetary details. He then let me listen in on his phone call with one of Veterans Campaign’s Board Members, Simone Lightfoot, in preparation for her visit later in the week. I also continued my work on the logo, coming up with an idea that encapsulated the goals of Veterans Campaign and that Seth and Norm can now use as a jumping board. They then gave me another task: updating the organization brochure to a new eye-catching design format, something that I am continuing to work on for them even now that my Princeternship is over.

In addition to all of this, Norm had his family friend, a high school student named Will who was touring colleges, visiting from his hometown in Georgia. Norm and I, of course, were more than willing to talk to him about the many benefits of going to Princeton, and it made me incredibly happy to be able to list this experience as one of those said benefits.

On my last day Norm contacted a friend from home who works in the office of Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and organized a private tour of the Capitol for Will and I as a special treat. Although Congress was out of session at the time it was still incredibly exciting for me as I had never been in the Capitol building before. We saw the original Supreme Court and Senate chambers, walked through the Rotunda, and even got to ride on the special underground train that travels between the Senators’ offices (which are across from the street from the Capitol) and the Capitol building itself. Next Will and I went on a private tour of the National Archives where we got to see the Charters of Freedom, i.e. The Bill of Rights, The Constitution, and The Declaration of Independence, another first for me. After that I headed back to the offices one last time to continue work on the new informational booklet. The final act of the day was a meeting between Norm and some of the GW fellows discussing the organization’s future events, including a major women veterans workshop, talk series, and networking event at the end of the year.

Ely 1My experience at Veterans Campaign was incredibly fulfilling and motivating for me. I have always loved anything related to politics, but until this point had never had the chance to explore those interests. Norm was amazing not only in his wish to make sure I had the chance to experience anything I was remotely interested in while there but also in the advice he gave me on how I could get the most out my experience at Princeton and through that achieve my goals, which included putting me into contact with the professors who mentored him both before and after he graduated.

Not only did this Princeternship make me even more passionate about making politics my life work, but also it gave me a perspective on a whole new manner through which I could achieve that: a political start-up. The success of Veterans’ Campaign has given me the knowledge that even as an undergraduate I have the ability to positively affect the world around me with my ideas and can take my ideas and run with them. My hope is that, like Veterans Campaign, I will find a way to focus on a yet untended facet of U.S. politics and translate it into something sustainable and effecting. But until I achieve that, I plan to stay involved with Veterans Campaign as much as possible.