When you work at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, your hours are long and you have to keep up with breaking news at all times of the day. For Peggy Fleming, New York University student and press intern for the Manhattan D.A.’s office, this is just another day in her life. Peggy balances her awesome internship with classes, schoolwork, assisting a professor with her research, Model U.N., and managing her social life. Though her busy schedule requires that she pulls an all-nighter every now and then, Peggy has become skilled at managing her time, prioritizing her duties, and making time for fun. In this interview with Peggy, she answers our burning questions about how she balances everything, why she is interested in politics, and what she wish she knew before going to college.
Name: Peggy Fleming
Education: Student at New York University
Follow: New York District Attorney’s Office
How do you define ‘seizing your youth’?
Seizing your youth is taking advantage of all the opportunities available to you, or as many as feasibly possible. Living in New York and going to NYU has been a unique college experience that has offered me so many opportunities, so it was more about choosing which opportunities I wanted to pursue. This is such a unique time in our lives where you can do an internship in one field for six months and decide whether you like it or not, you can go study abroad, and you can take a random class that’s not in your major. Once you get older, a lot of those opportunities to experiment and branch out become more limited as you settle into your career and you have more solid commitments.
What are you majoring in at New York University and how did you determine what to study?
I am majoring in Media Culture and Communication (MCC) and minoring in Law and Society. I came in not knowing what I was going to major in; I was focused on getting my liberal arts education out of the way and then when I found out about MCC, it was everything I was interested in learning because it involves a lot of writing and reading and most of the classes are discussion-based, but we cover a wide variety of topics. I’m specializing in Politics and Persuasion and Interactions and Social Processes. I get to study many different issues from the MCC perspective. With Law and Society, I’ve always been interested in law, and I particularly like the way this program focuses on legal issues from a sociological perspective.
You are interning as a Press Intern for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. What do your duties as Press Intern entail?
One of my main duties is every Monday and Friday morning I get up before 6AM and do the news clips. I go through all of the major news outlets in New York – New York Times, New York Post, the New York Daily News, DNA Info, New York Law Journal, ABC, etc. – and compile any stories that are relevant to any of our cases, our defendants, but also just any breaking news about crimes that have happened in Manhattan because a lot of times, those events will become our cases. I spend two hours doing that and putting all of the stories into a specific format and that gets sent out to about 500 people in our office.
Then, I go into the office at 10AM and stay until 4PM. I go to court, observe different cases, take notes, and check out what members of the press are present so we know who is writing about what cases so I can look for relevant sources the next day. I take a lot of notes so I know that what is being reported is factual.
Where else have you interned and how did you go about securing those internships?
I interned two summers ago at the Illinois Appellate Court, which was really interesting and a lot different than what I’m doing now. I was fortunate to get that job through a friend of my Dad’s, who is an Appellate Court Justice. She took me under her wing and let me observe what was going on and I helped her with a few research projects, but it was really just an opportunity for me to go into the court and see oral arguments and get a feel for the law firsthand. The other interns were in law school so they could do a lot more than me because they had taken the Legal Writing classes and had a better grip on the terminology. But it was still an invaluable experience.
Last spring I interned when I was in Prague at the Synergos Institute Global Philanthropists Circle which was an institution founded by the Rockefellers. It essentially helps philanthropists maximize their giving and become more effective social investors. I got that through NYU – they had an internship fair at our Prague campus and when I met with the Synergos representative, went to the meeting thinking it was an interview, but it was more of a confirmation that I had gotten the job. This internship consisted of independent research so I was able to work a lot on my own and still travel, so it didn’t hinder my abroad experience.
My current internship I got through NYU’s career database. I was very determined to get an interesting internship that would challenge me for my senior year because I don’t know if I’ll be living in New York next year, and I really wanted to take advantage of the remainder of my time here. I was prepared to apply everywhere and anywhere that sounded interesting. I sent two applications and within 24 hours I got two interviews and was offered both internships. I was able to pick which one I wanted, which definitely hasn’t been my experience in the past, so I was very fortunate.
What about politics interests you?
It affects so much of our everyday lives in ways we don’t even realize. I think a lot of people are ignorant and choose to not participate in the political culture, and that’s really to their detriment because they’re not exercising their civic duty and taking an active role in society. I think some of the time those people are the ones who complain when they don’t like what’s going on. If you want to make changes and see results, you have to understand politics and what’s going on and be a part of making a difference.
How do you balance interning and being a college student?
It’s a challenge. The hardest thing for me this semester is that I also agreed to take on being a research assistant for my professor. It was an amazing opportunity to help my professor edit her textbook, and I couldn’t turn it down, but it has definitely been difficult to balance everything. Time management is a priority, making a schedule for yourself and sticking to it. It can get overwhelming so taking it one day at a time and still making time for yourself to do fun things is important.
You studied abroad in Prague. What was your big takeaway from studying abroad and was it worth it?
I absolutely think studying abroad was worth it. Before, I had never been anywhere outside of the United States, not even to Mexico or Canada, but I had always been really interested in international relations and globalization. I had done Model UN since I was a freshman in high school, so I’ve represented the viewpoints of a lot of different counties in debates but I had never experienced any of the cultures firsthand. We are such a globalized society, so not only can you read about different cultures but you can see them on television and meet people from all over the world and experience culture secondhand that way. It’s a whole different experience to go to a different country and hear people speak their native language and eat their food, hear their music, etc. It totally changed my worldview.
I went to Istanbul, Barcelona, Rome, Florence, Berlin, London, Dublin and several Czech towns. Just to have experienced so many different places in such a short period of time, I feel like I just grew a lot as a person.
I went to Prague because the program had a lot of classes for my major and I was able to stay on track. For a lot of people when they study abroad, they have to use up their electives, but I was able to take credits towards my major. I hadn’t been anywhere and I knew I wanted to go to Europe, so why not Prague? It’s centrally located so it was easy to get to Berlin or Italy and London. It’s good if you want to travel.
For youth interested in politics, what can they do now to set themselves up for success?
I think that you’re never too young to get involved. I’m taking a Political Rhetoric class right now that requires us to do 10 hours of campaign volunteering and I think that campaigns are always looking for volunteers, whether they need people to make phone calls or canvas.
Other than that, stay informed. Read the news and know what’s going on so when something like the government shutdown happens, you understand the different decisions and policies and coalitions that made that happen.
What activities were you involved in throughout high school? Were there any experiences that were most memorable or life changing?
I’ve been involved with Model U.N. since I was a freshman in high school, so this is my eighth year doing that. That was probably one of the most defining experiences of my high school career. While I didn’t actually get to travel to any of the countries that I represented, we traveled as a team to places like New York, Boston, Michigan, Baltimore, and D.C., and to be able to do that in high school was a pretty amazing experience. Also just getting that opportunity to learn how to be a public speaker and to become more knowledgeable about different viewpoints and issues definitely shaped my analytical thinking skills. It just made me have a much greater appreciation for international politics and foreign affairs.
I was the president of Ignatian Students in Sisterhood, which was the equivalent of the women’s group / feminist club, which has been something I’ve been passionate about. I was also editor-in-chief of my newspaper, and that was definitely a defining experience. Starting off as a writer and moving up as an editor and managing everyone else, just learning the very rudimentary basics of journalism and what it takes to put a paper together both from the journalist aspect and the layout and design aspect.
I also worked with a group called Circle of Friends, which worked with physically and mentally challenged young adults. I traveled to colonial Williamsburg several times with the group, to give the students and their families a chance to experience an educational vacation away from home.
Besides interning and Model U.N., what other activities are you currently involved in?
I have been a part of Model U.N. at NYU, and I do participate in our travel team, although I haven’t been able to travel as much this semester because of my other commitments. I am also chairing a committee for the conference that NYU hosts in the spring, so we’re doing preparation for that now. I’m also a member of Zeta Tau Alpha, which is a sorority at NYU. I live in the sorority house, which at NYU is a dorm suite. That keeps me busy with our philanthropic and community outreach ventures.
What has your experience been like going to college in New York City?
I think that going to college in New York is a very unique experience. We don’t have the traditional closed campus and we often mingle with others from the city, so it’s a very adult experience. It’s less sheltered and there are so many opportunities. It’s really about choosing which ones you want to pursue. You really can’t compete with the professional and academic opportunities you have in the city.
What are three things you wish you knew before going to college?
1. Get involved early on. I took my freshman and beginning of sophomore year to adjust to living the city and NYU, and while I think that it was good to have a transition period, but I wish I had taken advantage of some of the opportunities earlier.
2. Say yes to everything.
3. You can take control of your own destiny – don’t wait for someone else to present opportunities in your lap, go after them yourself.
What motivates you in your everyday life?
What motivates me in my everyday life is that I really try to participate in activities that I’m passionate about. I’m really passionate about my major and my classes, so while sometimes it’s painful to pull two all-nighters in a row or to finish everything you need to get done, it’s a lot less painful because I actually enjoy the material I’m learning and at the end of the day I have a greater appreciation for that. The same goes for my internship and Model U.N. and the sorority. I pick activities that I feel are valuable of my time, so even though it is a struggle to balance my time, if you know it’s worth it, it keeps you going and you can take it to the next level.
Who is your role model?
I have a lot of different role models, and I know this is super cliché, but I’m going to say my mom because she instilled in me at a very early age the value of work ethic. From as young as I can remember, she always told me, readers are leaders and reinforced school as a priority. My mom has always worked from when I was young, and she’s always emphasized pursuing my passions and professional goals. She’s also someone who goes out of her way to help other people, and even though she has always has a million and one things going on, she still volunteers and is constantly going out of her way to help other people. That really inspires me when I get caught up in my priorities and things I need to do.
What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?
I would tell my 15-year-old self to hang in there. It’s going to get easier. Also, it is okay to not be perfect I definitely dealt with a lot of anxiety issues, specifically regarding academic performance, when I was 15-years-old. If I got below a 95% on a test, I would be in tears at my academic counselor’s office. While academics are important and obviously you should always strive to do your best, I really learned that you’re not defined by those numbers, your GPA, or your test scores. It’s not worth stressing over the little things. Focus on the bigger picture.