Ellie Schafer, former director of the White House Visitors Office, said that speaking at the Conference on World Affairs was “one of the most significant things I’ve done in my time since the White House.”
Labeled “the most powerful person in Washington that you’ve never heard of,” Schafer worked with former President Barack Obama for 10 years — first on his 2006 book tour, then his 2008 presidential election campaign and finally as a White House staffer. She attended the CWA for the first time this year, and spoke on panels including “Thanks, Obama” and “Two Steps Forward, One Back?: LGBTQ Rights.”
Three months into her six-month vacation after leaving D.C. in January, Schafer said the free-flowing and unscripted format of the CWA was a liberating change.
“For the past 10 years, I’ve scripted my life and other’s people’s lives down to the second,” she said.
At the Visitors Office, Schafer was in charge of making the White House an accessible and inviting place for millions of visitors. One of her largest tasks was planning the yearly Easter Egg Roll, which the Trump administration hosted for the first time this Monday.
I wish them the best of luck,” Schafer said on Friday after reports that the new administration was off to a rocky start planning the event. “It’s a beast like nothing else, and I think until you’re knee-deep in it you don’t really understand it.”
The New York Times reported that the event went smoothly, but had fewer vendors and participants than in previous years. There were around 21,000 guests instead of the last few years’ 37,000.
Schafer said that working with Obama from day one of his campaign to the very end of his presidency was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and that working at the White House was life-changing. She said that the ability to change people’s lives for the better was her favorite thing about working in the White House, citing Make-A-Wish visits as a specific example.
Describing a girl and her father’s visit with the president, Schafer said, “Afterwards, the dad gave me a big hug, and he said, ‘Thank you for today — it probably added a few months to my daughter’s life.’ And that kind of stuff, the impact you can make on somebody’s life, is the absolute most amazing thing that happens when you’re at the White House.”
Schafer said she also enjoyed the fast pace and the fact that no two days were the same, but that she’s happy to leave behind “the hours and the stress.”
For students who want to get involved in politics, she advised finding the candidate or issue that they’re passionate about and to start working on campaigns.
“If you find a candidate, go in there and work for them,” she said. “Don’t be discouraged if they lose, but get in there and get more experience.”
Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Carina Julig at firstname.lastname@example.org.