Profiles in Post-Collegiate Courage: Daniel Wanke

Calling courageous post-collegiates! For the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring interviews with interesting post-collegiates who will be sharing some of their experiences and offer some advice.   Want to nominate someone to be featured (including yourself)?  Email postcollegiateblog [at] gmail [dotcom]

Washington, DC has always been a city that calls to post-collegiates.  Where better to toil away as an intern or aide as you network, strategize, and prepare your own eventual public office run?  Take one look at the demographics of the Obama White House staff and you’ll see that being an under-30 Washingtonian doesn’t always mean fetching coffee!  While Daniel Wanke isn’t likely to employed by a Democrat any time soon, he is toiling away in the capitol city and agreed to answer some questions about life in the political fast lane.


Daniel, standing outside the West Wing in 2006, the year when he first came to DC as an intern

Let’s start this off easy.  Who is Daniel Wanke?

I’m originally from a small town in southern Wisconsin where I grew up on a farm.  I’m a life-long nerd, amateur chef, and a musician.  Before deciding on a career in law and politics, I actually was on track with a career in science and was interested in either biochemistry or biology as a college major.  I had also been in the advanced English classes and did well in history, government and foreign languages.  I’d also spent years studying American history as a member of the Children of the American Revolution (C.A.R.), [Ed.note – This is how Daniel and I met!] which is a youth organization for descendants of patriots in the War for Independence.

One day while I was looking at colleges, I realized that I wasn’t terribly interested in spending the rest of my life in a lab. I thought about what I was good at and decided to be a pre-law student instead with a major in political science.

As noted, I call myself a musician.  I did consider music school, but I had my concerns–career opportunities, etc.  Just prior to my senior year in high school, I discovered my singing voice.  I’d been in choirs, but was not anything remarkable.  Then it developed all of a sudden after I went to a music camp at Concordia University Chicago, which I had attended to play in the orchestra.  Ultimately, I stuck to my plan to be a pre-law student.  It was a tough decision to not go to music school. I knew that if I didn’t make it as a performer, I’d end up a music teacher, and I didn’t want to do that.  I kept up with my music through various choirs and have done a number of solo performances over the last 9 years since I discovered my voice.

I had picked Purdue University initially due to my science background. I fell in love with the place at first sight and for a variety of reasons I needed a fresh start in a new place. Purdue offered exactly that. Although it is primarily known as an engineering school, I found their liberal arts programs to be quite strong. I never regretted not going to a school more focused on arts programs. Purdue was fully supportive of my studies and I enjoyed having to justify them to the engineers. I became very active on the College Republicans at Purdue where I volunteered for a number of political campaigns, took part in several on campus events, developed my writing on hot topics and got plugged into a number of debates. I had no idea at the time that it was leading to a career in Washington.

Currently, I work in government relations for a trade association for commercial insurance companies that is located in Washington, D.C. I work on legislation and regulations impacting the association’s members, performing research, writing summaries and assisting in lobbying and public affairs campaigns at the state and federal level.

On your graduation day from Purdue, what your life plan at that moment?

My initial plan was to return to Wisconsin, find a job, and work for a couple of years while I prepared to go to law school.  I had finished my degree in three years, which left me reluctant to push forward with more schooling and I had not had a chance to take the LSAT during college.  I had planned to take it during that time and explore schools, but a job in Wisconsin that was suitable for me never came about.

You graduated in 2005.  Since then, what things have you pursued that were not part of that initial plan.

As I had hinted at earlier, I never expected to have a career in Washington at this point in my life. I’d always thought it was possible since I wanted to stay involved in politics.  Everything about my life since graduating college has been completely unplanned and unexpected.  Certainly once I got to Washington, I began doing things with a purpose like networking, making friends and career choices, but that I am doing any of this at all right now was at first a complete surprise.

Photographic evidence of Daniel's Republican status - and yes, that's the real Ann Coulter, not a wax figure

What passions or projects have you wanted to pursue but haven’t yet?  Why?

I’ve wanted to make use of my French that I studied for so long, but my current job doesn’t provide that opportunity.  I’d also like to study other languages.  I hope that at some point I am able to do that and I plan to seek out opportunities allowing me to do so.

What have been the greatest challenges in your life since college?

Balancing a very demanding job against having my own life and interests has been a huge challenge.  As a working “adult” (if I must be called that), being at the office all day doesn’t leave a lot of time for other things.  It came to a point this year where I had to quit all of my activities outside of work with the exception of music.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t find the time to do some of them here and there, but I genuinely have needed a break so that I could refocus and reevaluate my capabilities.

More challenging still has been living far away from my family.  I love my work, friends and living in D.C., but it’s hard being away from the home team. I don’t get to see my nephews nearly as much as I’d like to, and there’s the occasional guilt-laden commentary from my mom about finding work closer to home. Despite these challenges though, I doubt I’ll leave D.C. any time soon. I really love the area and the opportunities available.

As noted before, I am a big believer in random happenstance.  Do you have any examples of such occurences in your post-collegiate life?

Random happenstance is exactly how I ended up in Washington.  One day in December 2005, I was watching Fox News with my mom. [Ed. note: This blog does not endorse the viewing of Fox News.]  They had on a staffer from Young America’s Foundation to discuss some political issues.  I don’t remember what they were talking about, but I suddenly realized I had worked with them during college.  I was still looking for a job at this point, four months after graduating.  I’d heard the classic catch-22 phrase over and over in job interviews, “What’s your experience?”  The answer for someone who just graduated from college is never easy.  At this point I had turned to internship opportunities so that I could gain said experience.  I looked into the Foundation’s internship program and gave them a call.  I was told that they already were in their final decisionmaking process, but that they would interview me anyway.  So a day later, I did the phone interview and submitted the application package.  A couple of days later, I got a phone call with an internship offer.  I could hardly believe I had beaten all of their other candidates, but apparently I had. This was December 2005 and the internship started in January. So, on four weeks notice I packed up the bare essentials for this whirlwind opportunity and came out to  Northern Virginia to work. Towards the end of my internship, I started going on job interviews and about a month after I left the Foundation, I was offered my current job, where I have worked for four years.  None of this was planned as I noted, I didn’t come from a family with connections in politics and I didn’t spend years building towards a career in D.C.  It just happened.

If you could go back and tell yourself anything on your graduation day, what would you say?

I’m really not sure what I would say since so much of what has happened since then that I didn’t plan, although it’s worked out pretty well. I’d probably be at risk of copping out and saying something cheesy like “expect the unexpected.” But if I had the chance to say something to me that day I’d try and make myself understand how to face challenging times. I’d survived a lot up to that point, but I think I have a better perspective on it now than I did then and I’ve seen more challenges over that past few years. I think I’d tell myself to remember to breathe during the difficult times. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in one’s trials that something so simple as breathing becomes a task on life’s to-do list. And I don’t just mean the physical act of inhaling and exhaling. Obviously, that’s controlled by the part of the brain in charge of things we do automatically like our heart beat. I mean that one has to remember to breathe in the mental and spiritual sense. In the midst of a difficult time, it’s so easy to lose that rhythm on which each of us operates–that part that defines who we are. So, I guess I’d want myself to remember that and to take time to rediscover breathing when life throws us off the course we are on and to remember that we might not be meant to retake that course at all.

Daniel and I have been friends for 8 years and I never miss an opportunity to come to DC for a visit!

Many thanks to Dan for being our first male post-collegiate!  Didn’t get enough?  You can follow him on Twitter or feel free to leave additional questions for Dan in the comments section!