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Department: Politics

Ramirez Politics

Angela Ramirez ’97

Executive Director, Congressional Hispanic Caucus

New passions, new plan

I vividly remember charting the plan for my major and my first 10 years out of college. I would be a brilliant economics major, go to law school where I would perform brilliantly, and—finally—I would be a brilliant lawyer. A lawyer helping innocent children. Or innocent animals. Or innocent children caring for innocent animals. I wanted a career where I could stand in a hushed room and sternly call out, “Let the record show!” It was a foolproof plan.

I did take economics courses, and I found them enjoyable. I took courses related to the study of law and found them enjoyable. However, as I continued to take different classes, my plan began to unravel. I was surprised by the variety of different subjects I loved—playwriting, applied math, African American history. When it came time to declare a major, I was at a loss. With no epiphany leading me toward one department, I essentially picked a major based on what seemed the most interesting to me at that moment.

Thankfully, as a politics major, I found myself fascinated by the questions that arose in my departmental classes. Moreover, I was not only interested in the issues raised in class, but also in my classmates’ perspectives on these issues. Of course, writing my thesis on how an immigration bill became law, I still had no idea what my big, brilliant career plan would be. I just knew that I was interested in how people and government work together.

Exploring the options

Following graduation, I sensed that law school was not in my immediate future. I relied on the same theory I had used to select my major and took a job that seemed interesting.

My first year out, I worked for a California state senator on issues related to education, health, and labor. Suddenly, my Princeton experience seemed to fall into place. I got to use the storytelling skills I had worked on in creative writing classes to humanize policy through speeches. I was in small strategy meetings with elected officials where, much like my politics precepts, I was captivated by discussions on “who decides who decides.” My thesis research was great context for vote counting as bills went to the floor. And I got to help people—kids, people with questions about government services, assembly members with legislative concerns.

After my first job, I worked for a district attorney. Then I did health care consulting. I lived in southern Mexico writing about the needs of indigenous women. I volunteered on political campaigns.

Politics as preparation for a D.C. career

Five years out of school, I started to work for a New York City congressman in Washington, D.C., convinced it would be my job for a year while I applied to law school. Over four years as a legislative assistant in his office, I had the opportunity to fight for funding for global women’s programs, to help September 11th victims’ families navigate benefit procedures, and to see an actual idea that came up over coffee signed into law. Again, my Princeton experience was an asset. It gave me strong basic skills to survive in a Congressional office—how to write persuasively, think critically about a piece of legislation, and learn about a wide variety of subjects quickly.

In my current position, as the executive director of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, I coordinate the efforts of Hispanic members of Congress on issues of importance to the Hispanic community. Not a day goes by when I do not rely on the skills I honed at Princeton. My job is largely about adjusting rapidly to deal with all types of questions on all types of issues. A day could include everything from speaking on a welcome panel for interns to reviewing strategy with members of Congress on how to get a bill passed. And I relish being able to have even just a small impact on issues that matter.

Majoring in politics was obviously wonderful preparation for a career in politics. More importantly, it prepared me to follow what I love to do. Let the record show.