It’s not every college student who can claim to have received a high-level clearance from the U.S. government. Naomi Ducat can.
Ducat, who graduated in December, had the remarkable experience of closing out her final months as a Queens College undergraduate while serving as a White House intern for the Obama administration, working in Vice President Joseph Biden’s Office of Foreign Affairs. The caliber of her work was such that she was asked to extend her internship beyond the November election and into the final weeks of the administration.
“I come from a family of public servants,” says Ducat, whose mother, Beverly, is an adjunct professor at Queens College and other CUNY schools and whose father, Henry (now retired), worked for the state as a vocational rehabilitation counselor.
It’s not surprising, then, to find Ducat’s resume not only describes academic achievements (3.961 GPA, Dean’s List 2012–16), but also volunteer service, internships, and employment (including a job at the Queens Public Library under the auspices of the CUNY Service Corps) that would seem to uphold the family tradition while also fulfilling the college’s motto: We learn so that we may serve.
A media studies and psychology major who minored in business, Ducat explains, “I chose to combine these three disciplines because I see them as intertwined. I chose psychology, in particular, because of my interest in understanding human motivation and the processes that influence the decisions that we make and that impact our lives.”
Certainly, there can be few decisions more consequential than those made in the highest office of the most powerful nation on Earth, and Ducat’s White House position afforded her remarkable proximity to the nation’s top decision makers and the process by which they arrive at decisions.
A significant amount of her time involved conducting background research on subjects assigned by her supervisors who served as advisors to Biden. This group included the vice president’s foreign affairs speechwriter. Of the 15 interns assigned to the vice president’s office—among some 150 in the White House overall—Ducat was the only one assigned to foreign affairs, a determination that may have been influenced by experience she had acquired interning for three months at the Department of Defense.
“Before the vice president would engage in international travel or negotiate with international leaders, my supervisors—his advisors—would equip him with all the information and materials necessary to best represent the interests of the United States,” she says.
The reports Ducat prepared about events, people, and places would find their way into the vice president’s background briefing books (she wrote about 15 event memos for him). She relished these assignments as some, particularly those requiring research into a country’s history, presented opportunities to use the two White House libraries located in the new Executive Office Building and the Eisenhower Executive Office.
She was also asked to attend events her supervisors could not attend due to scheduling conflicts. “I would take notes and then supplement them with executive summaries of the proposals and agreements that were made between foreign leaders,” says Ducat, who attended more than 40 speeches, meetings, and think tank events.
Another of her responsibilities, prioritizing news for Biden’s daily update, drew on her media studies background. And then there was the charge for which no academic corollary comes to mind: conducting inventory of the vice president’s official gifts from foreign dignitaries.
Among Ducat’s favorite assignments was writing arrival reports that Biden would read when he traveled overseas. “These would provide the biographies of the people he would meet and detailed descriptions of the activities he would engage in as soon as he got off the plane,” she notes. “I enjoyed the insight it gave me into what his travels were like.”
Perhaps the most meaningful acknowledgment of her efforts, Ducat says, she received on those occasions when she attended meetings or events with the vice president. “Because of the nature of my work and the responsibilities of my supervisors, these were often serious situations rather than social occasions. Nevertheless, if he [Biden] ever saw me, he would smile and nod as if to say thank you.”
And while meeting President Barack Obama and being hugged by First Lady Michelle Obama are experiences she will never forget, Ducat speaks most fondly of her time with Biden: “He’s one of the kindest and most passionate people I have ever met.”
Having a front-row seat on history in the making, acknowledges Ducat, taught her many things about the incredible complexity of making decisions that affect the entire country and about the remarkable dedication of the people—regardless of their political leanings—who help make those decisions.
Perhaps her main takeaway from this experience, she concludes, is that “Working at the White House was an incredible privilege, and if I have to choose one lesson—it is of the importance of working in an environment with people who inspire you.”