Lee University student finishes internships in nation's capital

Lee University student finishes internships in nation's capital

March 21st, 2017 by Barry Courter in Life Entertainment

Michael DeForest, a senior at Lee University, was an intern at the White House during the fall of 2015 and then returned to the nation's capital last summer to intern at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Having just met Michael DeForest, it is unclear if his exuberant personality is caffeine-based or his normal demeanor.

But from the time he greets me inside the Conn Student Center at Lee University to the time we shake hands and part, the smile never leaves his face and he seems keen to share with anyone and everyone his experiences over the last two years in Washington, D.C.

A senior set to graduate in May with a degree in accounting, DeForest spent the fall of 2015 as a White House intern in the Office of Operation, which oversees finance, technology and logistics of keeping the 205-year-old building in working order.

To hear DeForest tell it, the interns and staff in the department are putting out fires at a superhuman pace every second of every day. It's not that he is overselling his role as an office troubleshooter. It's just that the office happens to be the White House, and the copiers and fax machines were breaking as dignitaries from China or the Vatican happened to be coming for dinner or a meeting.

It helps, too, that DeForest relates his experiences as if he is talking about climbing Mount Everest or going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

"It was the most fast-paced environment I have been in," he says. "It was also the most humbling to be that close to the action."

DeForest is quick to point out that while he did have his picture made with President Barack Obama near the end of his internship, and he was in the room with the leader of the free world for a Christmas party, they didn't see much of each other.

"Did I interact with the POTUS? Absolutely not," he says with a laugh.

"People ask that all the time as if he was like, 'Michael, what do you think about TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership]?' No one is going to ask a 21-year-old their opinion.

"I was in the West Wing most of the time, but it was things like if a copier broke, we facilitated getting it fixed. We were there to blend into the shadows. But it was an incredible exposure ... to be entrusted to do my job well, and to get to be such a small part of something I believed in so much was incredible."

DeForest was born and raised in Holland, Mich., in a family of teachers and pastors, he says. The only two things he knew about his future while in high school was that it would not include becoming either a teacher or a pastor and that he would not be attending nearby Hope College.

DeForest applied for the White House internship in the spring of his sophomore year. After not hearing back, he headed to Thailand on a mission trip. Two weeks before school was to start, he thought to check his email while in Bangkok and found a note congratulating him on being accepted. "See you in two weeks," it said.

"I had five days to get home and then seven days to get to Washington, find a place to live and get settled," he says. "I didn't even own a suit."

He found some dress shirts and a suit at a resale shop, and then the real whirlwind began. DeForest says he loved it so much he volunteered to work a week in San Francisco as part of the president's advance team during a trip Obama made there in April.

In order to get back to Washington, D.C., and to flesh out his resume even more, he interned this past summer at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in its Division of Corporation Finance.

"I just fell in love with the city," he says of the nation's capital. "I love everything about it. The pace, the food, the atmosphere. I wanted to get back."

DeForest says he will go to work for Ernst & Young here in Chattanooga upon graduation and "see what the Lord has planned for me."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.