From Homecoming King to Hilltern – David Cleland

OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute. Learn more about the internship at victoryinstitute.org/vci


Believe it or not, I started college with one goal in mind: to win Homecoming King. I devoted so much time and effort into winning a silly title that would be gone within a year and provides me with no substantial benefit outside of my college years. But it was all I wanted. In pursuit of the title, I got involved in as many things as I could. I have been in Green Club, Astronomy Club, Student Vegan Association, Greek Life, Office of Student Life, Office of Admissions, Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI), Office of Housing and Residence Life, Office of Career Services, and several other affiliations, and it was all to win Homecoming King. It truly is so silly to think back on this now, as I write this blog in Washington, D.C., working on Capitol Hill.

Now, I know what you may be thinking, “Okay, what does this have to do with the LGBTQ Victory Institute and the Victory Congressional Internship?” The funny thing is that it has everything to do with this experience because without Homecoming King, I would have never made it to where I am now. I knew getting involved in school would diversify and expand my reach on campus to maximize the amount of people I knew and who knew me which would increase my chances of winning the crown. What I did not know is that all these experiences would open so many doors for me, give me so many transferable skills, and allow me to meet and connect with so many amazing people who would play crucial roles in my development as a person and a professional. Already, we have had several programming events that have covered topics such as campaigning, networking, and advocacy which are all things I learned from running for Homecoming King. I just did not know they would also be skills that would set me up for a career in politics.

I joined an organization called Dance Marathon (DM) when I was a freshman which jumpstarted my career as a student leader at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). In DM, I met my advisor, William. He showed me the ins and outs of student life and working in higher education which inspired me to get more involved. Now, being in the Victory Congressional Internship, I realize just how valuable the things he taught me were. I would have never considered governmental or political work to be the career path I went towards, but after working in Civic Engagement with William, it gave me the tools I would need to work with the LGBTQ Victory Institute like I am now.

From there, I expanded my reach at UAH. That is when I got involved in practically everything else. I met so many mentors in my clubs and offices. To name a few, Karessa, a staff member in ODEI, showed me how to work independently, proactively, and intentionally, expanded my horizons regarding diverse and inclusive initiatives, and invited me to an opportunity that eventually landed me an amazing experience. Katie, a staff member in ODEI and one of my previous Orientation Leader supervisors, showed me how to lead and how to be professional and thoughtful of the world around me, and the entire staff of the Office of Career Services guided me through life, as they taught me valuable skills such as resume and interview skills and also personal advice regarding my confidence, drive, and future.

Kari, Candance, Laura, Menley, and Hillary, all took me in and fostered a young professional who felt like they had a community and a family which transitions us to my next stage of life. It was through all these experiences that I found the skills needed to apply for the Victory Congressional Internship and be accepted. I can remember to this day the questions that were asked in my interview, and how I pulled from every single experience that these amazing people gave me to achieve the status I have right now. I have used these skills with the LGBTQ Victory Institute and in Washington, D.C. every single day by advocating for myself for work, socializing with people through coffees to expand my network, and functioning professionally and personably to ensure I am creating the most enriching experience I can have from these months in the program.

Before interning through the LGBTQ Victory Institute, I interned for the Alabama Secretary of State, John Merrill. As mentioned earlier, Karessa invited me to an event where I met Secretary Merrill while he was speaking about voting in Alabama. After his speech, he invited me to apply to his Summer Internship program. I had never even considered government or politics as a career, but this sparked a curiosity in me, so I applied immediately. The Office of Career Services staff helped me the entire way. They reviewed my resume, gave me advice on relocating for an internship, and made me feel like I would always be able to come back to them with questions or advice. After all of the help, I found out I got the internship in Montgomery, Alabama which leads me to my next set of mentors.

I want to talk about one mentor, specifically, within the Office of the Alabama Secretary of State. David Brewer, Chief of Staff to Secretary John Merrill, truly showed me what a mentor should be and how a mentor could change your life forever. He welcomed me into the office from my very first day. He offered me advice, guidance, and praise, giving me the strength, knowledge, and desire to achieve everything I wanted and more. More than this, he opened himself up to be taught by me as well. It was the first time I had ever experienced a mutually beneficial and collaborative environment with someone who is so experienced and honored. He was my boss, but he will always be my mentor. I owe a lot of my growth and aspirations to Mr. Brewer. He inspires me daily and remembering my time in the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office continues to drive me forward towards my goals. The lessens and conversations I had with Mr. Brewer gave me the tools I needed to succeed in Washington, D.C. with the LGBTQ Victory Institute. He showed me how to work professionally in a government environment. He taught me to always stride towards my goals which has manifested in my constant advocacy for my own growth and development on Capitol Hill, and he inspired me to be myself no matter what which has only evolved since working with the LGBTQ Victory Institute and growing as an LGBTQIA+ leader in the government.

All of these experiences led me to the LGBTQ Victory Institute, and I could not be happier. I truly feel like the Victory Congressional Internship and the LGBTQ Victory Institute is where I belong, and the countless opportunities and people I have met along the way have prepared me for this program and this moment in time. Through the LGBTQ Victory Institute, I have accumulated more mentors than I can count on two hands. This internship has shown me the value of mentorships and mentors. From the supervisor and mentors with the Victory Congressional Internship, Itay, Taylor, and Ryan, to the staff members in my Congressional office, each person has guided me in a certain direction and has taught me something new which I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

I know that the most fruitful and impactful thing that has come from this internship for me is the expansive growth of my network and the personal and professional connection I have made with so many amazing people. I also realize that the skills I gained from all of these past experiences have transferred over into my present work with the LGBTQ Victory Institute and have given me the resources I need to fully succeed while also being myself on Capitol Hill. Despite the initial goals set and the motely array of opportunities that I look back on, I have never felt more at home than I have in the Victory Congressional Internship. I feel like I have found my passion, my calling, and my future all thanks to my desire to be Homecoming King. It is something I have worked on while in Washington, D.C., but I can proudly say that I can finally congratulate myself on building, growing, and transferring skills throughout my life to lead me to where I am now and to continue to lead me to where I will be going from here.

In short, that is how Homecoming King got me to where I am now, and how the most unlikely or unconnected situations can provide you with the most fulfilling opportunities. I look back on my past with love, gratitude, and admiration because without all of this, I would have never found myself in such an amazing environment as the Victory Congressional Internship.