Around the world with Obama

Former White House employee speaks at SMSU

Photo by Karin Elton Lac qui Parle High School graduate Hannah Hankins, who recently completed six years working in the Obama White House, spoke to students Tuesday at SMSU.

MARSHALL — From the small town of Madison, to Washington, D.C., Sweden, Russia, Japan and Australia, hard work has taken Lac qui Parle High School graduate Hannah Hankins around the world.

Hankins recently completed six years working in the Obama White House.

Southwest Minnesota State University Career Services brought in Hankins to speak Tuesday to students about careers in public service particularly in political communications.

In her six years at the White House working for President Barack Obama, she served in five different roles, most recently serving as the communications director and senior policy adviser for the Domestic Policy Council. In her work with the DPC, she managed a communications portfolio ranging from education to public healthcare to labor issues.

Highlights of her time in the White House include a trip to Asia in 2014. She went along on a presidential excursion to Korea, Japan and Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, where they stayed in a newly-built hotel, she said.

“We had to take the plastic off the light switches,” she said.

Then it was off to Australia on Air Force One, an 18-hour trip. During the trip, which was on her 26th birthday, President Obama brought out a cake.

Another high point was introducing family members and friends to Obama.

“He did a fist bump with my nephew,” Hankins said.

One time, while flying on Air Force One, she learned that her father would be meeting the president that day. She was concerned about what her casual father, Dr. Roy Hankins, who has a beard and ponytail, would be wearing. She couldn’t use her cellphone on Air Force One because of the security measures, but there was a telephone on board that she could use. She asked her dad what he was wearing and it turned out OK — he was wearing an Obama T-shirt, jeans and boots.

“It was incredible,” she said of Obama meeting her family.

Other jobs Hankins had at the White House were two and a half years as a White House press assistant serving as liaison between the White House Press Office and the media, and wrangling the national press corps aboard Air Force One and around the world.

“You started work when you could and left when the work was done,” she said.

Prior to the White House, Hankins worked for Sen. Amy Klobuchar in her Washington, D.C. office.

Before all that, she had had eight internships during her college years at American University in Washington, D.C. before graduating.

She was a “body person” which means a personal assistant, and driver for Klobuchar.

“I was a horrible driver,” she said. “I hadn’t driven in four years.”

After that position, there “happened to be openings in the press office,” she said, and her experience paid off and she got the job.

“When you earn trust, people can vouch for you,” she said.

Entry-level jobs were important, she said.

“The more people at the bottom can do, the more you’re lifting up your bosses,” she said. “You never say no when you’re on the lowest level.”

Hankins said higher-ups want to help interns, but you have to tell them your goals.

“You have to empower them to help you,” she said.

She said her parents have always been politically active and that has influenced her from a young age. In high school, she was active in student council, honor society, as well as other activities.