The Opportunity of a Lifetime: Working for the National Park Service

By Megan McNish ’16

The author in her NPS uniform working with visitors. Photography courtesy of the NPS.
The author in her uniform working with visitors. Photography courtesy of the NPS.

When I sat down to write about working for the National Park Service, first as an intern through the Pohanka program and then this summer working as a seasonal employee, I thought it would be an easy task. It should be simple to write about something that you love, but it wasn’t. I wrote an entire blog post and then realized it just wasn’t right. It was bland and detached, entirely opposite of how I felt about my summer experiences. I’m passionate about public history and the work I have done at the parks, so much so that sometimes it is hard to articulate what makes it so special. How can I convey in words the very thing that drives me? How do I convey the responsibility and how it fills me with pride when someone trusts me with that responsibility? How do I convey the joy that fills me when I conduct programs for visitors? The success I feel when I can help a visitor see a new perspective? I finally decided that the best way to put into words how I feel is to relate some of my experiences with the NPS that illustrate what working there means to me.

I will never forget the day I received my first acceptance into the Pohanka program. I was a first-year student coming back from a field trip on the battlefield. As we sat in the vans on our way back to campus, I checked my email. The title to one read “Brian C. Pohanka Internship Program” and when I saw it my heart began to race. I opened the email and began to shake as I realized that I had been offered an internship at Appomattox Court House. I was filled with pride that, as a first-year student, I had been so lucky to be chosen for such an opportunity. Months later, as I sat in a hotel room the night before I was to move into my summer quarters, the weight of that responsibility on my shoulders was like that of the world itself. I was so unsure, so worried that I wouldn’t live up to the responsibility that had been presented to me. This summer, as I began my third summer with the Park Service, this time as a seasonal employee, I felt the weight of that responsibility all over again. I felt pride again when I received the email offering me the job that someone trusted me enough to hold the keys to our nation’s history. As I pinned my badge on my uniform for my first day of work I realized the excitement of being able to represent my country and its history every day.

While a great deal of what I did each summer was serious, as I routinely interpreted the deaths of thousands of people, there also was a great deal of fun in it. I was able to spend my days telling the stories of men who fought and died at the various sites where I worked. I have been privileged to share their heart-wrenching, fascinating, thrilling, and entertaining stories. I spent many days talking to people and sharing my passion for history with them. I tried to help visitors change their perceptions and perspectives, find their ancestors, and explore new places that they never even dreamed they could. I was able to help people find joy — and challenges — in their history, something that people remember. I met a visitor this summer in Fredericksburg, VA who remembered me from two summers ago when I worked at Appomattox Court House! What I had said that stuck with them? Their memory of me was both flattering and encouraging, telling me that what I’m saying really does stay with people.

I’ve decided that there are no words in the English language that can accurately express how I feel about the work I’ve done and the organization I represented. The Park Service has been called America’s best idea and from what I’ve seen of it, I really think it is. From the stories the Park Service tells, to the places it preserves and protects, to the new places and stories it looks to tell, this organization is truly remarkable. I count myself fortunate to have been given the privilege and honor to have been a part of it.

Applications for Pohanka Internships are due on October 26 at 4:00 p.m for all Gettysburg College students.

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