So, with the advent of the last semester of my so-called graduate education fast approaching, I thought it'd be a good idea to try and touch base with the peeps I hoped to do my master's project (known in health comm-speak as the "ALE", or "applied learning experience"--gak!) with. Namely, the community relations department of the company I currently bang on the keyboard for. I've been playing phone and email tag with the director for a few weeks now, and she's had to cancel more than one appointment to discuss ideas with me.
She finally got back to me, and asked if I could attend a "Legislative Breakfast" this morning, in which I could learn more about the project I specifically want to work on. Well, great; I thought. A gathering of the legislative division of the project, or the coalition, or something like that. Sounds great! I'm in!
Yesterday she called to give me some last-minute details. Where it was to be held, for instance. I waited, pen in hand, for her to tell me which conference room of our downtown office to report to.
Except that's not what she said. Instead, she told me which hall of the State House to go to. "Nurse's Hall; on the right past the rotunda if you enter through the Beacon Street entrance. It's a chance for us to educate state legislators as well as senators about how obesity and health affect state spending."
Oh. THAT kind of Legislative Breakfast. Oh. Wow.
So, needless to say, I was pretty much wetting my pants over the whole situation. But I figured it'd be Ok--I'd just be a chick in a black suit to everyone there. They wouldn't know that I was just masquerading as a "real person".
It was great. GREAT. We're getting media coverage because WBZ (channel 4) is a sponsor (although it'll be as warped as it usually is--media coverage is media coverage!), and we have some new TV spots coming out next week! So I smiled and shook hands with the important people, was chatted up by TV anchors (hell, they didn't know I wasn't one of the IMPORTANT chicks in the black suit!), and was never, not once, made to feel small or like someone's lackey. I was introduced proudly as "Amanda, from community relations" and passed off like some sort of expert-type person, rather than someone who stuffs and unstuffs envelopes for a living. I was treated like I belonged.
And through the whole experience, I suddenly began to realize that I do. I knew what everyone who spoke was talking about. I was familiar with community programs they referred to, with statistics they mentioned. I talked with a Nutritionist about how crazy diets like Atkins and the Zone are giving people a false sense of health and putting them in a higher risk bracket for cardiovascular disease; with a Harvard professor about the ways in which epidemiological evidence in studies is twisted and warped for commercial purposes; with a fellow corporate junkie about how cause marketing has made companies like Avon synonymous with causes like curing breast cancer, with a Pediatrician about Krispy Kreme v/s Dunkin Donuts. I didn't shuffle, or look at my feet, or feel awkward. And it slowly began to dawn on me that this, this was what I went to grad school for. To learn the poise to work a room, to learn the science behind making people change their behavior, to learn enough about the subtopics of my field that I could dabble in conversations with experts and not get in over my head. And yeah, sometimes I was just treading water, but sometimes I was swimming.
And to top it all off, I ran into a woman I did my huge project of last semester for (yay! I have "contacts"!), and she reiterated to me how completely "blown away" she and her cronies were by our final results--the proposals and planbook. She said she had passed it on to her boss and to her bosses' boss, and that they all were "amazed". She said: "Yeah, the head of the department took a look at it and said 'this is incredible. I can't believe grad students did this!'." She said if I needed anything, anything at all, to get in touch with her.
So, it's starting. I can kind of maybe almost see myself as an intelligent, worthy, semi-professional-type person who has the ability to hobnob with the rich and powerful.
Or, y'know; maybe it was just the suit.