Meet the Press
Tony Sermonti with Air Force One.
Once a month or so, Tony Sermonti ’04 steps out of his life in Olympia, puts on his earpiece and dark business suit, and takes care of the press needs for President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama or Vice President Joe Biden when they are on the road. It’s exciting, demanding and intense. And as Sermonti tells us,
“Failure is not an option.”
When you are a part of the traveling White House, you never know what might come up. You could be timing Air Force jets as they fly over a stadium, riding in a presidential motorcade or wrangling press photographers as they try to get their photograph of the day. That’s my role as a press advance associate for the White House.
Of course, I didn’t start out there. I started out as a driver in a small convoy of cars for Teresa Heinz Kerry in 2004, when presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry made a quick two-day stop in Seattle. I was working as an intern in the Washington State Senate, serving as student representative to the Evergreen Board of Trustees, and finishing up my senior year at Evergreen, when one of the legislative aides asked me to help out “for a day.”
That one day opened the doors to so many unique opportunities. The next day, I worked a 20,000-person campaign rally outside the Tacoma Dome. I continued to be involved in the Kerry presidential campaign, learning the ropes and how all of the pieces work together, from the Secret Service to hotel logistics, but particularly how to work with the news media.
After graduation, while working as communications manager at Evergreen, I got a call from John Edwards’ 2007 primary campaign, and it was off to Iowa and other parts of the country. I spent many months on the road as a national advance staffer, primarily in media relations and logistics. I’ve turned barns into presidential campaign stages and found a notary public in the middle of a field with minutes to spare. The wide range of events I worked on during the campaigns gave me skills I still use and allowed me to meet many more people who continue to share opportunities with me.
Now I spend several days each month serving the White House when the President, First Lady or Vice President travels. The advance team typically arrives a few days prior to an event to ensure that the sites, and specifically in my case, logistics for the local and national press, are well planned.
Regardless of political affiliations, it’s an extraordinary honor to represent the White House, and to know that you’re part of that institution. Occasionally, I find myself quickly and quietly looking around and thinking, “I’m a kid from Aberdeen. What on Earth am I doing here?” It’s very serious work to make sure things go smoothly, and there’s not a lot of room for error. It’s certainly challenging much of the time, but it’s an incredible opportunity. It keeps me on my toes and ready for anything.