At about 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, Rachel Palermo can be found beelining from the Notre Dame Law School to her parking spot in order to join a very important phone call.
In January, the third-year law student joined the staff of Vice President Kamala Harris as assistant press secretary. She has been simultaneously completing her final semester of law school and working remotely for the White House since then. During her 9:30 a.m. check-ins, Palermo and her team decide what will keep her busy in her apartment that day.
“A lot of work revolves around day-to-day press engagement,” she said, “and then it’s a lot of long-term communications planning — what sorts of events the vice president should engage in, what type of messaging should we be thinking about, those sorts of things.”
According to Palermo, starting this job during the pandemic has had its challenges. She said that “COVID, and its recovery, and how we get through this together as a country” have dominated her discussions with the rest of the press staff. Still, she said the changes surrounding the pandemic brought her to where she is now. Last summer, when a 10-week internship was cut down to four, Palermo found herself with time for new opportunities.
“That was a huge disappointment; however, it allowed me to get really involved with the Biden campaign,” said Palermo. “I was able to volunteer in a way that might not have been possible if I was doing a full-time summer job at a law firm.”
Furthermore, without the explosion of remote work necessitated by the pandemic, Palermo would have faced even greater barriers to completing her law degree at Notre Dame while working for the White House.
“It’s definitely been challenging, but it’s been manageable because I built my schedule in a way that made it possible to be able to do both classes and work,” she said. “And when I ultimately go in person, I would be able to finish my courses online.”
Palermo said that throughout her academic career her classes and extracurriculars have shown her the power and responsibility of young leaders. From her year as undergraduate student body president of St. Olaf College to her current co-presidency of the Notre Dame Women’s Legal Forum, Palermo has seen firsthand “the impact that you can have with the government.”
Making that impact is often as difficult as it is rewarding, according to Palermo.
“This moment in time is presenting a lot of challenges,” she said. “There’s these four converging crises that we talk a lot about in the administration that are all coming together right now — obviously, the pandemic, and then the economic fallout that came from that, and then racial injustice and the climate crisis.”For now, Palermo’s contributions to fighting these problems will continue to take place from her apartment. Until the return to safe in-person work, you know where to find her at 9:15 a.m.
Photos courtesy of Jeremy Hogan.