08/19/09 — White House just latest step in Peele's journey

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White House just latest step in Peele's journey

By Laura Collins
Published in News on August 19, 2009 1:46 PM

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Christian Peele, 22, a former Greenwood Middle School student who skipped high school, will begin work in the White House in September as part of an internship program, a year after graduating from Duke University's Divinity School.

Just eight years ago, Christian Peele was going to school at Greenwood Middle School in Goldsboro. But come September, Peele will go to work in the White House.

Peele, 22, was recently accepted into the White House Internship Program, which runs from September through December, and her journey from Goldsboro to the White House has been a busy one.

Growing up in Goldsboro, Peele attended North Drive Elementary School and Greenwood Middle School.

"I was formed and shaped in Goldsboro and really value it as my home. My family was very active in the community," she said of her mother who worked at Edgewood Developmental School and Dillard Middle School, and her father who owned Dennis Peele Realty.

After middle school, however, Peele's academic level was on par with that of a college student, so she bypassed high school and went directly to Mary Baldwin College in Virginia at the age of 14. After graduating from college at 17, she enrolled in Duke's Divinity School. Then after graduating from Duke in 2008, she took a job with the Harlem Children's Zone, a non-profit organization in New York City.

"It was an incredible positive and formative experience and I saw community work in a way I'd never seen it done before," she said.

In January, Peele came back to North Carolina. The path in front of her was not as clear as it had been since graduating from eighth grade, and she needed time to do some "soul searching" -- reflecting on the service she'd done and her own personal commitments to her faith.

"During my reflection time, having gone to college early, I jumped headlong into my work and into being an adult," she said. "The time in North Carolina really gave me space, to not just think about it, but to really reflect on those things."

Her father, Dennis Peele, said he wanted to make sure she didn't get discouraged during her time away from school and service.

"She has been in the spotlight all of her life, and one thing I've noticed is that people who are destined for greatness, when they have down time, sometimes they can't adjust to that," he said. "We tried to teach her that it's not always going to be that way, so try to do unto the Lord, so it's about Him and not about her. That way she's always stable."

Peele worked for a couple months at an English tea shop in Greenville while she was in conversation with a non-profit, The Potter's House, in Washington, D.C. Then in May, the organization offered her a contract to work through the summer with the homeless in D.C., feeding and connecting them to other resources available.

While in D.C., Peele said she regularly read the weekly news briefs on the White House Web site and saw it was accepting applications for the internship program. She described the application as a "long, stressful, rigorous," process that included writing two essays, a memo intended for the president, an extended resume, three letters of recommendation and completing short answer questions.

And that was just for the first round of the process.

In June, Peele got word she would continue on in the process. She was contacted by the domestic policy council and was told she had 24 hours to write two research papers on topics of her choice.

A couple weeks later, Peele interviewed with the office of management administration and did phone interviews with other staff members.

"Then I waited and waited. And each day got longer and longer," she said. "Then I found out. It was only a three-sentence e-mail, but it was the greatest sentences I ever read."

During the internship, Peele will be assisting the person in charge of coordinating the White House Internship Program -- a position to which she can bring a lot of insight since Peele is dealing with her own obstacles concerning the internship.

While the news of being accepted to the program is exciting, the position is full-time and unpaid.

"I don't come from a family that can support a five-month endeavor that is unpaid. It's just a reality when your family isn't wealthy," she said. "That kind of thing, perhaps unintentionally, makes the program appealing to only certain kinds of people, and unappealing to other kinds of people who can't live for five months without working."

Though the internship is only four months, Peele is factoring in a job-search month once the internship is complete.

Peele wants to work to help make the program a "people's program" -- inviting, appealing and welcoming to students and young people of all socio-economic backgrounds.

In the meantime, Peele said she will be "humbling herself," asking church communities, friends and others she's impacted for financial help.

"I'm nervous about raising my own support. It's going to be a five-month period where I'll be dependent on the community and people around me," she said. "I'm confident this is what I'm supposed to do, everything else will fall into place."

Her father added they are relying on God through the whole process.

"He is going to bless her and bless people who's lives she has already impacted in a positive way," said Dennis Peele. "They are going to realize that her being there is going to help a lot of people."

As for the future, Peele said she isn't sure what will happen come January, after the internship is complete, but said she's looking forward to being "pleasantly surprised."

To contact Christian Peele call her at 452-6582 or email her at christian.peele@gmail.com.