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How Shawn Syed’s internship made wishes come true


Over the course of his four-month internship at the White House this semester, junior Shawn Syed collected memories by the bushel. He watched Marine One, the presidential helicopter, land and depart from the South Lawn. He attended the visit of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. And he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence, reading hundreds of the thousands of letters that arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue destined for the eyes of the president of the United States. But it was the day he brought his immigrant parents to see the Oval Office that still resonates most strongly.

Syed Ameen and Naureen Ameen were born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan. Syed emigrated to the United States in 1972, when he was 14 years old. Naureen followed 16 years later. When Syed arrived on these shores he carried little more than the $14 in his pockets. But from their modest start, Syed and Naureen embraced the American Dream. Syed earned an MBA and worked as a banker. Naureen went to medical school and became a pediatrician. Both became U.S. citizens, and together they saved enough to see their two older sons graduate from The College of New Jersey—Dan in 2012, and Harris in 2014.

Photo courtesy of Shawn Syed
Shawn, with his parents, Syed and Naureen, at the White House. Photo courtesy of Shawn Syed.

And now, on a sunny Sunday afternoon in late April, they stood inside the workspace of the commander-in-chief of their adopted country. They saw the framed photographs of the president’s wife and daughters on his desk. They looked out the tall, broad windows of the Oval Office and took in the emerald expanse of the South Lawn. Syed paused to catch his breath. And then he turned to his youngest son, and he said, “You’ve made a dream of mine come true that I never thought was possible.”

Surely every college student in modern-day America is well versed in the personal and professional value of the internship. But Shawn Syed, a philosophy major from New Milford, New Jersey, has turned the experience into something of an art form. Over the past three years he’s interned with U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman. Earlier this year, when TCNJ philosophy professor Morton Emanuel Winston nominated Shawn for membership in Phi Beta Kappa, he called Shawn’s internship record “the best of any TCNJ student I have ever taught.”

For Shawn, who plans to enroll in law school and work in public service, it’s not hard to identify the high point among his internships.

“There are simply no words fit to describe the Oval Office,” he says. “Its sheer aura stops you in your tracks and makes you short of breath.”

—Christopher Hann