One day last year, Matthew Handy found himself seated next to Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who served three years as the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives through January 2019.
"Oh, Speaker Ryan," Handy recalled thinking at the time. "I had no idea until I looked over."
Hopkinsville native and Christian County High School graduate Handy has a lot of stories like that.
Just last week, he was in the elevator and in walked U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.
Handy thanked Lewis for his work in support of civil rights; according to his website at johnlewis.house.gov, the longtime congressman was active in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and served as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that he helped form and which was largely responsible for organizing student activism within the Civil Rights Movement.
Handy has also met U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson and has plans to meet with U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell to share some of his ideas with the Senate majority leader.
The son of Calvin Buckner and Shannon Wells of Hopkinsville, Handy is enjoying his second stint as a congressional intern in Washington, D.C. Joining the Rocky Mountain Black Conservatives last year, the Hopkinsville Community College sophomore got his first opportunity to intern in the nation's capital.
In 2018, he worked on Capitol Hill in the office of U.S. Rep. Mike Bost of Illinois, and this year he is working in the office of U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, a Republican congressman from Georgia.
His days are spent answering phone calls and replying to voicemails left by callers, responding to emails from the various congressional offices and conducting tours of the U.S. Capitol for constituents.
With two or three tours a day and an hour per tour, that's quite a bit of time on tour.
"We pretty much walk them through the Rotunda, the old Senate and House chambers (and) through the tunnels," he said of the underground passageways that let people get around without going outside.
Handy said tour participants particularly enjoy the Rotunda, which features among its points of interest "The Apotheosis of Washington," a mural painted in 1865 by Constantino Brumidi that shows the nation's first president George Washington rising to the heavens in glory.
They also learn a bit of history with a firsthand look at a statue of former president Ronald Reagan that stands in the Rotunda. That statue features chunks of the Berlin Wall in the cornice of its base.
Reagan, the nation's 40th president, once famously told Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall which had symbolized the Communist era in what was then a divided Germany.
Handy also informs his curious tourists that a second Reagan statue commissioned by Nancy Reagan for her husband's library in California does not incorporate any chunks of the Berlin Wall.
The Hopkinsville student began his current internship on June 3 and will continue his work in the nation's capital through July 19; both internships were made possible through his membership in the Rocky Mountain Black Conservatives' group headquartered in Colorado that Handy joined in 2018.
He said the opportunity to work in Washington has been a boon.
"I have really enjoyed it as far as learning about the ins and outs of the legislative caucus," noted Handy, who is studying political science and business administration at the community college and plans to continue with his studies in political science at University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg.
Handy said he's been gaining insight on things going on in Georgia, having needed, as part of his Washington work, to research bills and policies that affect Ferguson's 3rd district in that state.
He noted that Georgia is "powered by agriculture like Kentucky" so there are similarities between bills passed in the two states. Part of Handy's responsibilities as an intern also includes tallying up votes, and it is Handy who reaches out to congressional offices before a bill makes it to the floor.
Emailing those offices early allows officials to see how those offices feel about a bill, i.e., what their stance is on a bill, and it can give an idea of how well it that bill might do, according to Handy.
The young man said the favorite part of his day is going to the briefings and hearings that have allowed him access to members of Congress like U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, Lewis or Kentucky's McConnell.
Among the things he'd like to discuss with McConnell during his upcoming meeting with the senator are efforts to reach out to black people and minorities to get them involved in politics as well as an initiative that he said could encourage younger generations to run for office in the Republican Party.
Handy likes the energy of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the U.S. representative from New York.
He noted one thing that is disappointing to him in the nation's capital, and that is the seven or eight tents set up just a block from where he works for homeless people in the city. It's the same looking out a window from the Oval Office, where one can witness people begging for money, Handy said.
"It's very disheartening to see that," said Handy, who observed that lawmakers have ongoing conversations about immigration reform but should be focusing on what's going on at home.
"(Immigration reform) is important," he said. "But we should fix our own yard before we start looking at someone else's. We should definitely go make our citizens a priority."
Handy said he doesn't want to say that he doesn't want to come back to Washington.
"Definitely local politics in Kentucky," said Handy, currently vice chairman of the Christian County Young Republicans, of his future political involvement. "And I may find myself back in Washington."
A Trump supporter, Handy said he'd also like to see better support for the president. Whether people agree with him, he is the president, Handy said. He noted that people have become more self-reliant under President Donald Trump's administration and are not in a state of dependency anymore.
"He has," Handy said, "taken efforts to lift individuals up and not leave them in that state of dependence like previous administrations."
Handy said he would like to see his country become more self-reliant, to be back on the forefront of the world with its manufacturing and labor, to provide success and wealth for everyone.
"If I could just snap my fingers, that would be something, prosperity for all," he said.
Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or email@example.com.