ALTHOUGH SHE WAS NEVER REALLY DRAWN TO POLITICS, PAIGE OLIVER IS THANKFUL FOR THE TIME SHE SPENT INTERNING WITH THE U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
by ELLEN ORR
Paige Oliver never expected to pursue a career in government or politics, but she did have a few hunches about her future: a talented wordsmith, she’d probably enter a field that allowed her to write; a fierce female, she dreamt of working alongside trailblazing women; and, though a born-and-raised Texan, Paige always felt pulled to New York City.
“[When I told my parents that I was moving, they said,] ‘We knew this was coming—we knew you’d move to New York one day—we just didn’t know what you’d be doing,’” Paige said.
She didn’t really know, either. A rising senior at Texas A&M, majoring in telecommunication and media studies, Paige spontaneously applied for an internship with the U.S. State Department, specifically at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. “I applied but didn’t feel like I’d done anything crazy noteworthy to be considered,” she said. “When they called to tell me I got the internship, I was like, ‘Is this real? Do you have the wrong number? This is amazing.’”
Accepting a position within the protocol (event planning) department, Paige packed two large suitcases and boarded a flight to JFK, embarking on an adventure that would, unbeknownst to her, prove much greater than a semester-long internship.
It was September 2016, and the beginning of the 71st General Assembly—the UN’s “on” season, when the most debate, discussion, and resolution-drafting happens. Paige’s second week on the job was “high-level week,” a major time when heads of state from all over the world congregate. As a protocol intern, Paige was busy from day one, handling RSVPs, updating databases, and attending events she’d helped execute.
Working in the Obama Administration under Ambassador Samantha Power, Paige was present at many parties Ambassador Power held for world leaders, other ambassadors, and local government officials. One such party was both “the coolest and saddest event” Paige ever experienced: a presidential election watch party at the Ambassador’s home. In attendance were “all the big powerful women”: Gloria Steinem, Madeline Albright, and female UN ambassadors, to name a few. The expectation was to witness the election of the first woman president. “It was really historically interesting, and really a downer,” Paige said.
But December 2016 wasn’t all disappointment: the intern coordinator encouraged Paige to return to the USUN the following year for a contract position. She flew home to Texas to earn the final credits of her bachelor’s degree, and then it was back north, this time for a paid position as an office management specialist. “In my new role, I was responsible for helping keep the committee that I was assigned to on track,” she said. “I helped manage meetings and did a little research for negotiations that they were going into, which was really interesting. I did a lot more substantive work [than I had done as an intern].”
Project management and research, it turns out, were very much in Paige’s wheelhouse. She was able to employ her writing skills often and even drafted a speech that was delivered on the floor at the UN. “Some of my original phrasing was in there, which was really cool,” she said of the surreal experience.
Working during the 72nd General Assembly was a totally different ball game than what she’d experienced the year prior. Under the new administration, the State Department was “experiencing a shift in priorities,” Paige recalled. “I learned a lot, but I didn’t feel like it was a good place for me to continue my career,” she said.
So, in January 2018, she gracefully transitioned to the private sector. She accepted a position as an associate at Ichor Strategies—a minority- and women-owned public affairs firm based in Brooklyn. “It was the perfect next step,” Paige said. The work she does is largely “politically adjacent,” though every day is different, depending on the client. Many hours are spent researching and writing about community engagement, which she loves. “I get to learn a lot about places I never knew,” she said.
“I don’t really know what I want to do long-term, but my current job is helping me figure it out a lot,” she continued. “I feel like I will eventually return to the political sphere, but I don’t know what shape that will take at this point.”
This draw to politics was somewhat surprising even to Paige herself. “I never would have predicted that I’d be interested in politics,” she said. “I got sucked into it,” she laughed, “and I’m really glad I did, because I really enjoy it.”
One day, she’d like to move back to Texas to be near family, but for now, she looks forward to her next chapter: beginning a master’s program in the fall. She will be pursuing a Master of Public Administration, with a focus in urban development and sustainability, at City University of New York’s Baruch College.
“My parents always encouraged me to pursue education and explore my interests,” she said. “Actually, my whole family has been extremely supportive [of all of my pursuits]. They always say, ‘If anybody can do it, you can do it.’”