The Gustavian Weekly

From life on the hill to Capitol Hill | The Gustavian Weekly

By Luke Garrison Staff Writer | January 16, 2009 | News

Over five years ago, a Gustavus January Interim Experience class took a trip out to Washington, D.C., to experience what work is like on Capitol Hill. For one of that trip’s members, Semonti Mustaphi, it was a life-changing experience.

“I have to thank the political science department’s January [Interim Experience] trip to D.C. for helping me see this city as my future,” said Mustaphi, a 2003 Gustavus graduate. That experience propelled her to intern and later campaign for the late Senator Paul Wellstone. Upon graduation, Mustaphi then moved to Washington and found herself working for more of our nation’s high-ranking officials.

She served as Assistant Press Secretary for the Gephardt for President Campaign and following that position she was Deputy Press Secretary for Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Both of those experiences were great for Mustaphi, but something was still missing. “I loved those experiences, but I wanted to work on Minnesota issues,” she said.

That desire led her to Senator Mark Dayton (D-MN), for whom she worked as Press Secretary. Following the end of his term, she was hired on in the same position for Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). In 2007, Mustaphi continued her political travels and worked as Deputy Communications Director for Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA).

With quite the political résumé behind her, if given the opportunity, Mustaphi was prepared to take on an even bigger job as the 2008 presidential election approached. That opportunity came in July ’08, and Mustaphi took full advantage of it.

She was appointed as Michelle Obama’s Deputy Communications Director in Chicago, and once Barack Obama won the presidential election, it meant the First Lady would be looking for a team to make the transition with her to the White House. Mustaphi enjoyed her experience in Chicago very much and held out hopes that she, too, would transition to the White House.

Mustaphi recalls one specific moment on the campaign trail where she knew she wanted to continue working for the future First Lady. “Mrs. Obama delivered an amazing primetime speech at the Democratic [National] Convention in Denver. The audience erupted when she took the stage and never died down. We all got goose bumps listening to her words that night. I remember thinking to myself; ‘Wow, I cannot believe that I get to work for her. She is an inspiration to young women like me,’” said Mustaphi.

Semonti Mustaphi may have felt like she already had her dream job this past summer, but recently she awoke to discover her dream would still continue for perhaps four more years. She was appointed as Deputy Press Secretary for Michelle Obama and will work in the East Wing of the White House and be around the Obama family every day. In her limited time working for the Obama Administration, Mustaphi says she is already very impressed by Michelle and the entire family.

“The Obama family is just like most other American families—they are very down-to-earth and have strong family values,” said Mustaphi.

As for her thoughts on Michelle, “Mrs. Obama is a phenomenal woman with many talents, but if you ask her to define her priorities, she’ll tell you without hesitation that her number one priority is to raise their two daughters, Malia and Sasha,” Mustaphi said. “She balances the responsibilities of being a working woman with being an active mother.”
Mustaphi is looking forward to this next step in her life very much, but it is not the only significant change on the horizon. When she is not busy working, which is rare, Mustaphi is planning her wedding in May. She is marrying fellow ’03 Gustavus graduate Scott Stephens and could not be happier.

Mustaphi is very anxious and excited to start her life’s newest endeavors, but she emphasized how important her college experience at Gustavus was in preparing her to be where she is today.

“I cannot stress how influential Gustavus’ professors and faculty were to helping me find my interest, building my confidence and providing a team atmosphere for me to grow in,” said Mustaphi.

“They not only taught academics but they also taught the value of community, and I thank them for all of their guidance during my time at Gustavus.”

Over this January Interim Experience, Gustavus has another class in Washington, D.C., perhaps providing the same experience for those students as was felt by Mustaphi over five years ago.

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