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Getting an up-close look at the White House’s inner workings

From landing his dream co-op to becoming a key staff member in the Office of the Social Security, Klevis Xharda, SSH’14, has made a name for himself around the White House.

Klevis Xharda, SSH’14, took the words of career advice in stride, even if they were coming from an unlikely source.

After all, it’s not everyone who receives pointers from First Lady Michelle Obama.

“Mrs. Obama continually tells us to worry about what we want to do, not who we want to be. It’s important to determine the things that you’re passionate about and really focus on moving the needle on those issues. Success and change come as a result of persistence and hard work,” Xharda said.

After landing a treasured co-op in the Office of the First Lady in September 2013, and then serving as the Assistant to the Social Secretary of the United States until recently, Xharda has had a unique view into the inner workings of Mrs. Obama’s team.

“She’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” Xharda said. “Some of the best times I had in that position were in meetings where she challenged us to push the boundaries and brainstorm creative ways to be impactful in people’s lives. It was surreal being in those types of meetings.”

Xharda was one of roughly 6,000 applicants to apply for the 100 or so internships, and his effectiveness in that position was instrumental in his getting hired in the Office of the Social Secretary. It’s a position that demands dexterity given how quickly things can change.

“For weeks you plan, map out every scenario and possibility, draw up a schedule of events, and then it can change in a moment,” said Xharda, a native of Albania. “It’s important that you’re always thinking on your feet and prepared when the challenges come along.

To illustrate how the slightest misstep can send an itinerary into disarray, he recalled a trip he made to the United Nations in New York City in support of the First Lady two years ago.

“We went over the rules and procedures, we were all very much in tune with what was happening. The First Lady was giving a speech and everything was planned down to the minute. When we got to the site that morning we realized that our teleprompter had been sent to an offsite facility overnight and we were not going to get it back in time.

“It’s very intimidating knowing that the First Lady is on her way to the venue and you have to make the call to let her know that there’s no teleprompter. We ultimately agreed to have her read the speech from a binder.

“We can laugh about it now, but it was very tense in the moment. She and the President have been doing events like this for many years and are really good at making it work, even when things go wrong. She remained cool and made an impactful, impassioned speech about women’s issues that was very well received.”

Xharda, who received his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and International Affairs, said his experiential learning opportunities at Northeastern played a crucial role in preparing him for his career.

“The whole educational approach at Northeastern is so unique in that it empowers the students to develop those important life skills that are critical to success,” he said. “It’s hard to develop a sense of professionalism without the experiences you receive on co-op. The classes are great, but the ability to implement those skills in a professional setting is priceless.”

Xharda left his full-time position at the White House in January to pursue opportunities involving tech innovation in government.

“I want to return to [to a government role] someday and perhaps work to incorporate new tech solutions to challenges currently facing our government,” Xharda said. “I think technology is going to play a huge role in the way we address everything from education to counter-extremism, and I hope whoever becomes the next president continues to utilize tech as the way forward.”

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published March 2016