From the Farm to the Capital

March 10, 2010, 12:58 a.m.

It was a cold, rainy Saturday evening in our nation’s capital, and Maria Lizet Ocampo ’06, M.A. ’06 was giving five students in the Stanford in Washington (SIW) program a tour of the West Wing of the White House.

“And here is where Rahm Emanuel, Vice President Biden and I enter for work every day,” Ocampo said nonchalantly, walking through the double doors and into the West Wing.

Ocampo led the group down the empty hallways, abandoned for the weekend except for several other small tour groups and watchful security guards.

From the Farm to the Capital
Maria Lizet Ocampo ‘06 works as a liaison between the president and Congress in the Office of Legislative Affairs. (Courtesy of Maria Lizet Ocampo)

“You are lucky,” Ocampo said. “Obama just retired to the residence to have dinner with his family, so we can peek into the Oval Office.”

The five Stanford students were awed by the surroundings, from President Obama’s impeccably neat desk to the general governmental grandeur, while Ocampo seemed unfazed and in her element—a tall, 25 year-old, confident Latina woman walking around her office.

Only four years ago Ocampo was at Stanford, living in Casa Zapata in Stern Hall as an Ethnic Theme Manager (ETA), playing in Mariachi Cardenal de Stanford and working as a political science research assistant with former Stanford professor Luis Fraga. Having earned a B.A. in political science and a M.A. in social sciences from the School of Education, Ocampo is now working in the East Wing of the White House in the Office of Legislative Affairs, which serves as a liaison between the President and Congress.

“My life at Stanford directly relates to what I do now,” Ocampo said. She considers her current job as “part two of a political science education.”

Ocampo is just one of many Stanford alumni and faculty who are now working in the White House. Just five years ago, Michael Ortiz ’05 was also living on the Farm, taking classes to complete his history major and going to Old Union for Stanford in Government meetings. Now, as Assistant to the Director of the Office of Legislative Affairs, Ortiz spends his time in the West Wing of the White House, participating in meetings with senior officials, including President Obama.

Ortiz attributed his current interest in politics to his experiences at SIW. While in the Washington program, he interned with Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) and took a class on congressional oversight from Walter Pincus.

“I knew I’d want to return to Washington after graduation,” Ortiz said.

He did, coming back to D.C. to work for Reid after receiving his B.A. He then got the opportunity to work for Obama’s press office, and soon enough found himself where he is now, in the Office of Legislative Affairs.

“After graduation, I expected to serve in government for a year or two before returning to law school,“ Ortiz said. “Four years later, I’m still here. It has been an incredible experience. I’m so grateful to Stanford for opening the door to so many of these opportunities.”

Ocampo also cited SIW as the launch pad for her political future. She said that interning at the Department of Justice through SIW sparked her interest in politics. While there, Ocampo said she was inspired by a note that then-Senator Obama wrote to her in a copy of his book, “Dreams From My Father”—“Maria, dream big dreams!”

“As a child of immigrant parents and the first person in my family to graduate from college, I feel that my story is an example of a big dream, the American dream,” Ocampo said. “As typical as it sounds, I strongly believe this dream should be one available to everyone.”

That belief led Ocampo to get involved in the Obama campaign in Florida in 2008. After Obama was elected, Ocampo volunteered with the Obama presidential transition team, working on English language-learner policies. Soon, she was hired on as staff in the Office of Legislative Affairs, where she is currently working.

It was 8 p.m. and Ocampo was wrapping up the West Wing tour. The SIW students left the White House after thanking Ocampo for her personalized tour, chatting about their dinner plans in Georgetown for later in the night. Ocampo watched them leave, a few years removed from her time as a SIW student, before heading back to work for a couple more hours.

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