The Voyage of a Lifetime – Brett Ries

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

Albert Einstein remarked, “A ship is always safe at shore but that is not what it’s built for.” It would have been very easy for me to stay safely at shore in South Dakota, but I am so glad I made the decision to step outside of my comfort zone and set sail toward our nation’s capital. Although interning on Capitol Hill was the experience of a lifetime, I found something even more special through the Victory Congressional Internship: a supportive community that understands my struggles as an LGBTQ individual. Growing up in South Dakota, I did not have an openly-LGBTQ role model in my family, school, hometown, or state. My hometown didn’t have its first Pride festival until this summer. I could not rely on others to validate my sexuality; I had to find acceptance within myself. I didn’t realize how much of a burden this was until I came to Washington D.C. through the VCI Program and felt the weight being lifted off of my shoulders. I was finally surrounded by people who relate to my story, have faced similar challenges, and don’t need me to explain or validate my sexuality and expression. My cohort, the Victory staff, and my congressional office all welcomed me with open arms, and I was finally completely free to be myself unapologetically. 

I have learned many things from this experience, and I feel obligated to share them in order to help the next class of Victory Congressional Interns or anyone else reading this post. While these lessons may seem specific to this experience, many of these lessons transcend my experience in the program and are applicable to other life experiences, personal or professional. 

  1. Discover the recipe for the group. During this program, 12 individuals spend the majority of their eight weeks in D.C. together, including living with each other. Everyone will have their own experiences, opinions, and personalities. The goal is to find how you can all grow together in the most conducive environment. It’s like when you have 12 separate ingredients for a meal: you know that the ingredients can make something beautiful and delicious, but you have to find the best way to approach each ingredient. You cannot just throw the 12 ingredients into a bowl and expect them to magically turn into what you want. Take the time to understand each ingredient and figure out what it needs to help create a cohesive dish. To escape the metaphor, be patient and respectful with your fellow cohort members to the best of your abilities. However, it is also your responsibility to remain open to different perspectives and uncomfortable conversations. If you give up on your cohort, they may give up on you. Everyone is learning together. It will be a long eight weeks if no one takes the time to listen and understand one another. 
  2. Take initiative. I am so grateful that I got to assist in the research and drafting of the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall Resolution that passed both the House and Senate unanimously. However, I don’t think I would have been given that opportunity if I hadn’t given my legislative assistant a policy proposal for a topic area I had done extensive research on. I also wrote a tour guide and master table with issue codes for my fellow interns. Neither of these tasks were assigned to me, but they were certainly noticed by the office staff. If you want to make the best out of this opportunity, it will require you to take the extra time to think outside of the box about what you can do to improve the area around you. 
  3. Seize the moment. While eight weeks may seem like a long time, it goes by in a flash, so take advantage of the space around you. It may be easy to just go home to the dorm and rest after a tiring day of work, but there is too much surrounding you to do that. Visit museums, monuments, LGBTQ spaces, and other amazing places in D.C. One of the favorite pastimes of my cohort was to go to karaoke and tots on Sunday nights. We even took advantage of the cheap bus rides to New York City and went to World Pride. I promise there will be time to rest after the internship, so make the most of D.C. while you are there. 

It is now time for me to take my ship back to my home state of South Dakota. It’s time for me to be a more vocal and visible role model for the other LGBTQ individuals in my state who are afraid to emerge from the shadows or are struggling while in the light. But as I think about my voyage across a sea of change and growth, I have to thank the sailors who boarded ship and supported me. To the Victory staff: I cannot thank you enough for this opportunity and the kindness and support all of you showed me. Thank you for investing in this South Dakotan. To the eleven other cohort members:  it was an honor to share the past eight weeks and grow with all of you. Thank you for your kindness, your energy, and your lessons. I can’t wait to change the world in one way or another alongside all of you. Victory 12 forever. 

Brett Ries poses in front of Victory sign with "make historic firsts history" sign