After soaking up the ultimate civics lesson in Washington D.C., rising East Central University student Diego Cifuentes is now leaning toward a career in public service.
The native of Miami, Florida and resident of Pauls Valley, Oklahoma spent the 2018 spring semester as a legislative intern for U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida, representing the 28th District which encompasses most of Miami and Coral Gables).
Cifuentes’ experiences in D.C. have ignited a fire and desire for politics.
“I firmly believe that my generation’s voice, fresh perspective and innovative ideas can help solve some of our country’s most challenging issues,” said Cifuentes. “That is why I am deciding to run for public office soon. I’m thankful for the positions I’ve held and being a 20-year-old, first-generation college student, I want to give back someday to a community which has given me so much.”
The D.C. opportunity would not be made possible without the efforts of the ECU faculty and staff.
“I was able to gain a real-life experience because of ECU. I received a grant from the (ECU) Foundation. I’m thankful ECU supports college students with their endeavors,” said Cifuentes. “More importantly, sharing smiles with the ones you love is the best part of life. I am truly blessed to have so much support from my family and friends. They encourage me to follow my dreams every day.”
Cifuentes felt like he served as an ambassador for the university as well.
“People would ask me where I was from and they assumed I went to OU or OSU,” Cifuentes said. “I was able to tell them about ECU and life as a Tiger.”
Cifuentes’ internship journey began in January of this year. The first day of his internship included a self-guided tour of the Rayburn House Office Building in D.C.
“Even though I was over on the House side. I made friends with interns on the House side and Senate side,” Cifuentes said. “I was grateful for the opportunity to network with so many people. I’ve been asked so many times if this experience was worth it and my answer to that is absolutely! I’m grateful for each moment and the life I have been given to lead and I hope every day that I’m able to empower more individuals to stand up for what they believe in and change the world. We have one planet, one chance, to create a beautiful world, for those yet to walk in our footsteps.”
Among his duties as an intern were: giving Capitol tours to constituents, writing memos and speeches for Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, recognizing achievements back in the community, attending hearings and briefings (immigration for example which is close to Cifuentes’ heart), interacting with office visitors from different organizations and the medical field, answering phone calls and attending events with the Congresswoman.
One of his specific duties was to work with social media in which he created and designed posts.
“This was an opportunity to showcase your work and passion,” said Cifuentes. “One thing that I specifically love about working on the Hill is that whatever you may be interested in, you can apply it in this setting.”
The experience of serving as an intern in D.C. has certainly inspired Cifuentes to not only seek a political path, but to show bipartisanship in the process.
“Getting to meet people from both (political) parties was stirring. Political parties aside, I’m someone who is all about bipartisanship and getting the work done to ultimately better deliver results for the people you represent,” Cifuentes said. “We need representatives that truly listen to those in their districts and stand for the issues and concerns of their constituents.”
Those networking opportunities led to meeting and getting photos with Minority Leader of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi; entertainer Richard Gere; Congressman Will Hurd, R-Texas; Congressman Ruben Kihuen, D-Nevada and Jenniffer Gonzalez, commissioner of Puerto Rico.
“Working with the Congresswoman was truly the opportunity of a lifetime. Not only that, but just being in D.C. itself is so motivating. I thought, this is where I’m meant to be,” said Cifuentes. “I also got to go on the House floor and see our government in action.”
Cifuentes’ experience has led to him being selected as the state vice president of the Student Oklahoma Education Association after serving as an officer and representative for ECU.
He also has interest in Israel after taking part in the Christians United for Israel Convention in July of 2017. He is currently in Israel as part of a CUFI fellowship.
“Overall, it’s been both a learning and cultural experience for me. I’m a strong supporter of the U.S.-Israel alliance,” Cifuentes said.
He also served on a mission trip to Guatemala in June, teaching English and helping with disaster relief after the eruption of a volcano in that country. Cifuentes’ work included helping out the churches in communities with creating spaces for the victims to stay.
Being civic-minded on the local level, Cifuentes will serve on the Ada Multi-Cultural Committee in an effort to impact the community in a positive manner while working alongside people from diverse backgrounds.