By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
When Garrett Ziegler was in high school, he was mostly known as a standout athlete.
He was a third team all-state basketball selection and an all-conference baseball player for the Altamont Indians.
But those who were closest to Garrett knew there was another passion in his life.
“I loved two things all my life – sports and politics,” Garrett admitted. “My dad’s second cousin, Ronald Ziegler, was a press secretary for President Nixon, but nobody else in my family has ever been involved with politics. But I’ve always been interested in that.”
That interest was only peaked when he served as an intern for Congressman John Shimkus from May to August in 2016.
That experience would have satisfied many. But not Garrett, who then set his sights even a bit higher.
In July 2017, he went through an extensive online application process that took nearly five hours and included 10 essay responses.
But it proved to be a worthwhile exercise. About a month later, he received word that he had been selected as an intern for the White House.
“I’ve always known there were interns at the White House,” Garrett explained. “During my internship with Congressman Shimkus, I came into contact with people who now work in the White House. I believed if I applied, I might have a good shot at getting in. It all hinged on Donald Trump getting elected president.”
Garrett started as a White House intern on September 6 and served in that role until December 8. He took a semester off from St. Louis University. He worked between 45 and 50 hours each week, but received no pay.
There are 13 departments that White House interns can be placed into. Garrett was assigned to the National Economic Council, which is what he had hoped for, which makes sense. He is an economic major at SLU.
He worked as a research assistant for the Special Assistant to the President for Infrastructure Policy (DJ Gribbin) and Agriculture Policy (Ray Starling). His supervisor was Richard Chalkey, who is from Streator, and serves as the Associate Director of the NEC.
“The National Economic Council was established in 1992,” Garrett noted. “It’s a chief policy-making forum for considering economic matters. It deals with both international and domestic issues.
“As a research assistant, I wrote memos, helped with scheduling and did research on policy,” Garrett said. “There were a lot of meetings. I would provide information for everybody in those meetings and accumulate material that related to the topics that would be discussed. I enjoyed doing that a lot.
“I was able to attend some of those meetings, but not others. It all depended on the subject matter.”
Garrett was one of 90 interns during that three-month period. He said they were from all across the U.S. and were between 20-29 years old. And they were all serving in some role to help the president.
“President Trump is obviously unconventional, but he’s actually a very generous person,” Garrett said. “He’s an extraordinary man and a fighter, which in my opinion is exactly what we need right now. I know he says some things that rile people up, but I totally support his agenda.”
The son of Michael and Anita Ziegler, who will turn 22 in February, has certainly had some life-enhancing experiences since graduating from Altamont High School in 2014.
In addition to his experience in the White House and with Congressman Shimkus, Garrett also had the opportunity to study in Madrid, Spain, during his sophomore year at SLU. During that time, he visited more than a dozen countries in Europe and came to a realization.
“For the first time in my life, I became grateful for being born in the United States,” he said. “I have the greatest parents and family in the world and now know how good I’ve had it. My parents have helped open a lot of doors for me. And my grandmother, Norma Wohltman, has also done a lot for me. They have given me many opportunities to experience things.
“I also realized how important it is to have a society where everybody has a shot and I hope to contribute in a way so others can have that opportunity, too.”
The White House internship taught Garrett the importance of being prepared.
“You never know what’s going to happen at the White House,” Garrett emphasized. “I learned the importance of being prepared for every meeting; every interaction. I’m now a better writer, much more alert and very grateful. This was a great opportunity for me.”
Garrett has one more semester remaining at St. Louis University. He will graduate May 19.
So what’s next?
“I’m planning to go back to Washington D.C. to work in politics, although I’m not sure in what capacity yet,” Garrett said. “Then after one or two years, I’m planning to go to law school. I’m considering the military route and going into the JAG (Judge Advocate General) Corps. I’m also very interested in the military.”
But, ultimately, Garrett wants to get involved with politics.
And why not?
His life experiences and passion have prepared him for exactly that.