Imagine being a 21 year old student at The University of Southern Mississippi and already believing you have had the best one-and-a-half-minute conversation of a lifetime.
“It really probably was the best one minute thirty second conversation of my life when former President Bill Clinton shook my hand and said ‘hi, how are you?’” declared Southern Miss senior Shana Beal.
The speech-communication and political science major took an unconventional path to meet the former president. With the encouragement of her advisor, professor Keith Erickson, Ed.D., Beal placed a cold-call to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Ark., asking if she could do an unpaid internship during her 2009 holiday break from school. It didn’t matter that she had never before traveled alone, that she was not looking to be paid or that she had no housing arrangements. Beal knew what she wanted and was determined to make her dream a reality.
“It was kind of nerve wracking to make that call, but after I left the message I immediately got a call back saying they would be happy to have me,” exclaimed the vibrant Beal. “But I probably wouldn’t have made that call if Dr. Erickson hadn’t pushed me.”
The fact that Beal selected the Clinton library and the Christmas break for her internship adventure was a conscious decision on her part. She explained she has always thought of Clinton as a hero because of his stance on public service and public service was the theme of the December trip.
“I served at the library every day from nine to five and on Christmas day I volunteered to serve food in a homeless shelter,” said the Waynesboro, Miss, native. “President Clinton is all about service and I got to attend Christmas Eve services at a Presbyterian Church then Midnight Mass at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, and Christmas day services at St. James United Methodist Church where I spoke about service, my faith, and my future plans.”
According to Beal it was the “spirit of the Little Rock trip” that showed her how the United States is a melting pot of individuals who all have “something” to contribute. She pointed out the kindness and diversity of her two host families in Arkansas. One was a woman who had lost her son on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The other was formerly employed in the Clinton White House and coordinated his motorcades.
“Overall this was one of the best experiences of my life considering I met President Clinton, (former Arkansas governor) Mike Huckabee, (former presidential advisor) David Gergen, some monks from Thailand, some people from China and it was great,” she declared with the excitement of a holiday fireworks display.
Beal is in the process of writing a grant application aimed at earning money from the Clinton Global Initiatives University (CGI U). Her project is a “commitment to action to fight hunger, enhance education and improve housing in the Mississippi Delta.” According to its web site, “the CGI U Outstanding Commitment Awards were piloted in 2008 to provide financial support to innovative, student-driven initiatives.”
Beal, who was reared by a single-mother and her grandparents, credits both her mother and grandmother with her drive to succeed and help others. “They always told me; even if you don’t have a million dollars you owe it to yourself and to others to help other people, and one day I hope to have the power to really help others” she said.
And what about that Southern Miss professor whom Beal credits as being the sparkplug for her idea? “Shana has a tremendous future with a sincerity to truly help others and she believes public service at the national level is admirable,” stated Erickson. Shana Beal
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.