Winter Park native Baxter Murrell, 19, was offered a job at the White House after an 11-week internship this summer.
Ever wonder what it’s like to work in the White House?
Just ask 19-year-old Winter Park High School graduate Baxter Murrell.
The Winter Park native accepted a job at the White House this summer, capturing the once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity just a year after he was old enough to vote.
Murrell will be working in the White House’s office of management and administration, helping with the internship program and volunteer operations as a staff assistant. He will be building a sense of community among the interns, creating networking events and coming up with other fresh ideas.
He starts Aug. 28, and Murrell couldn’t be more excited.
“It’s very surreal to be 19 and employed by the White House,” Murrell said. “I think it’s a pretty tremendous achievement.”
Murrell’s opportunity stemmed from an internship for which he applied in March. The Winter Park High School grad submitted a résumé, letters of recommendation and a professional policy memorandum before playing the waiting game.
Murrell got word he had been accepted shortly after, during his first year at Mercer University in Georgia.
He was chosen along with 137 other interns throughout 32 states.
“I got an email one day from the White House, and it just said, ‘Congratulations,’ with a big exclamation point,” Murrell said. “I was in the middle of a meeting with student government at school. I ran out of the meeting, called my parents, and we cried on the phone together.”
It’s hard to put the following 11 weeks living in Washington, D.C., and working at the White House into words, Murrell said. The one that keeps coming to Murrell’s mind is “surreal.”
He spent evenings bowling in the Truman Bowling Alley.
He watched Marine I land on the White House lawn — his plaid tie and dark gray suit jacket flapping from the propeller’s gusts.
He met President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and many other officials.
He celebrated the Fourth of July on the White House lawn surrounded by members of Congress, beneath the most spectacular fireworks display he had ever seen.
“It really was like celebrating Christmas at the North Pole,” Murrell said. “You’re celebrating the country’s independence from the country’s house. It was fireworks like you’ve never seen before. It doesn’t compare to anything you might find in Winter Park. … I remember standing there, as it got dark and once the fireworks started, just in awe.”
As an intern, Murrell ushered governors and senators to appointments and meetings, heard leadership seminars and had the chance to tour “The Highest Court in the Land.”
Noticing his drive and creative thinking, White House officials offered Murrell a job two weeks before the internship ended.
“I’m still processing it,” he said. “It’s still surreal. To me it’s really an honor to be given the opportunity to continue serving the country, even though it’s a small role. It’s a humbling feeling.”
AN OLD SOUL
It’s impressive to see Murrell land a job at the White House at only 19, but the young Winter Parker always has been an old soul — wise beyond his years, said Murrell’s father, Robert.
The young Baxter was carrying mature conversations with adults as far back as age 5, and was getting invited to birthday parties for fifth-graders when he was only in kindergarten.
“I’m very proud of him, super excited for him,” said Robert, adding that what his son accomplished was entirely on his own. “What a great experience and a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing. It’s so well deserved for Baxter.”
Murrell used the same determination and drive to pursue his passion for community service during his high school years. He served on the city of Winter Park’s Keep Winter Park Beautiful and Sustainable Board, helping craft the city’s aesthetics while exploring environmentally friendly endeavors.
As a Boy Scout, Murrell went for a tremendous goal to obtain his Eagle Scout status: filling 400 bags with supplies for homeless people in Central Florida. The project, known as Baxter’s Bags, is still running and has raised more than $18,000 and distributed 500 backpacks.
“The Boy Scouts actually thought it was too ambitious and that he needed to cut back and that he’d never be able to accomplish it,” Robert said. “They said ‘Why don’t you do 50 backpacks?’ He said, ‘Well, because I called the Coalition for the Homeless, and there’s 400 people on average on a busy night. … I don’t want to leave anybody out.’ It took him a little longer, but he was able to put 400 backpacks together.”
The path ahead for Murrell is still coming into focus. Currently enrolled at Mercer University, he plans to continue taking online classes while working full time at the White House. He plans to return to school after about a year of work and also dreams of going to law school. He understands the importance of getting a college degree, he said, adding that he plans to wait and see how the next year pans out.
But while the journey ahead is still being shaped, a dream is clear on the horizon.
Someday, Murrell hopes to serve in the White House in a much greater capacity — as president of the United States. Being the leader of the free world has been an alluring dream of Murrell’s all throughout high school. He was even voted “most likely to become president” by his senior class.
As Murrell walked the White House grounds and shook the President Trump’s hand, the dream never seemed so tangible, so real.
There’s a great deal of mystique and mystery surrounding the president’s home, Murrell said. Walking the hallways and rooms that have housed presidents for more than 200 years brings back that “surreal” word once again, he said.
But it isn’t the historical sense of place or the extravagant accommodations that makes Murrell want to be the leader of the free world. It’s not the bowling alley, helicopter rides or unlimited access to the nation’s most sacred spaces. Rather, he dreams of crafting policy that makes his country a better place.
“I think the president has the greatest power to make change,” Murrell said. “I’m really about helping others, especially the homeless. I think someone sitting in that seat and holding that power has the greatest ability make some type of influence.”