Asked whether during his White House internship this summer any officials asked him how to fix the nation's budget impasse, Elliott Lynn laughed and said, "Definitely not."
But the Glenwood School graduate and Auburn University senior does feel his work made a positive impact beyond making coffee and filing documents. And although the interns aren't paid, Lynn figures the experience he earned will prove invaluable.
"You feel you're a small part of something bigger than yourself," he said.
Lynn was one of the four interns in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, the liaison between the administration and Congress. The main goal is to help get the president's agenda passed. Lynn and another intern focused on the House of Representatives. They reported to a deputy assistant to the president.
Like a loyal official, Lynn declined to be specific about his work in the White House, citing security concerns, but he described his duties in general: He tracked votes; he wrote memos; he helped conduct events; he escorted visitors. He is most proud of the information he gathered that eventually reached the president.
For example, in advance of congressmen meeting with the president, Lynn would write a memo containing background about the representatives and the issues.
"This was on a very low level and obviously edited all the way up," he said.
Still, he knew his work was part of the chain that governs the nation.
"It's terrifying," said Lynn, 21, of Phenix City. "It's scary. You want to make sure that you're doing everything the right way, putting your best effort into everything that you do."
Despite interning for Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the previous summer, Lynn didn't expect to be selected for the White House internship.
"It's very competitive," he said, estimating he was one of about 140 interns among more than 1,000 applicants.
Lynn recalled the awe he felt the first day of his White House internship.
"You're overwhelmed with the fact that you are actually there," he said, "that you were lucky enough to be selected, because I know there are hundreds of people just as qualified."
Asked how he could intern for a Republican senator and a year later intern for a Democratic president, Lynn smiled and said, "I always considered myself a moderate independent, kind of in the middle. But I'm definitely a Democrat now. It's hard to work for the administration and not be."
And the White House staff sure works hard, Lynn learned.
"I never really had thought about the stress of the job and the amount of time and effort they put in," he said. "When I would leave, the staffers I worked for were always still there. We usually wouldn't leave before 7, sometimes 8."
But no matter how tired he got, he always appreciated the honor of working in the world's most powerful office.
"There's so much history there," he said. "There are places there where you can see the actual original structure, the way it was burned in the War of 1812. You just think about who has walked the same places you have."
Lynn never got one-on-one time with Obama, but the president spoke to the interns as a group, and Lynn did get a photo taken with the first lady.
"The other intern in my office, on her first day, was walking through the White House to go get her badge made, and (Obama) was walking in the other direction, and he stopped and spoke to her," he said. "I was jealous."
Lynn is majoring in political science and history. After he graduates in May, he plans to attend law school.
"I wouldn't mind ending up back in D.C., working somehow in an area related to politics," he said. "I'm not just absolutely focused on one thing yet. I have a wide variety interests. I want to get into the best law school possible so I have options."
His dream job?
"I would love to work for the State Department," he said. "I always wanted to go overseas and work, but more recently I've become interested in domestic politics."
Whatever career he pursues, Lynn said, the White House experience made him more optimistic about his future and the nation's despite the pessimism he hears from cynics.
"There are some huge, fundamental differences in viewpoints about what the role of government should be in our country, which is really difficult to get around," he said. "But I'm definitely confident, just from being more attuned to politics and learning more about the process, that everyone has what they think is in the country's best interest in mind. As long as people compromise, I am hopeful."