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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU Graduate and Former Refugee Earns Prestigious Internship at The White House

By Noell Saunders

Anita Ross' beginning in this country wasn't easy, but it helped her build character and develop perseverance. Those values later earned her an important role in Washington.

The native of Afghanistan was the first graduate from Old Dominion University's Graduate Program in International Studies to be selected out of thousands of applicants nationwide for an internship at the White House.

Ross, who graduated this year with a master's in international studies, came to the United States at age 12 with her mother and four siblings in 1999, during the rise of the Taliban. It was a journey that, she says, tested her faith and required great courage.

"I was born in Afghanistan at the time when we went to war with the Soviet Union," Ross said. "We had 24 hours to leave the country or be killed, so we fled to Pakistan."

She continued, "We arrived in Pakistan as war refugees and initially stayed at a Red Cross refugee border camp. However, my family left the refugee camp after a few days because children - especially young girls - were disappearing every night because of human trafficking. My parents couldn't risk staying with four young children, three of them girls."

Her family settled in Richmond, where her aunt and grandmother lived.

Ross, the oldest of five siblings, has remained passionate about solving world issues, such as those she has encountered. The opportunity to work on high-level tasks with government personnel at the White House in the fall provided a new gateway to achieving that goal.

"I am thrilled to able to say that I walked through the same gates and halls as the Founding Fathers and first families, who helped shaped the foundation of the country, as well as prominent world leaders," Ross said.

She said she was delighted to work in the Office of First Lady Melania Trump, where she assisted with several projects and events including the White House Historical Association Ball, the Congressional Ball and Hispanic Heritage Month.

"I conducted research for the first lady's speech for the presentation of her inaugural gown to the Smithsonian and one of her trips to Asia," she said. "I also helped with the design and execution process of the holiday decorations as well as management of the holiday volunteers."

Ross believes everyone, regardless of political affiliation, should serve the country in some fashion. She applied for the internship with one thing in mind: to have a positive impact while bringing a fresh perspective. Ross is seeking a job in government or international security and business.

"Being selected for an internship like this one is amazing. As an Afghan-American woman, it signifies how far I've come, and may serve as an inspiration for other immigrants who have big dreams," she said.

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