From IWU Magazine, Spring 2013 edition
All the President's Gifts
Carolyn Hull ’08 becomes part of history as staff member of the Obama White House.
Story by SARAH (ZELLER) JULIAN ’07
Hull is among the White House staff greeting the arrival of Marine One.
During his presidency, Barack Obama has received some unusual gifts, from a box of
50 boxer briefs sent by soccer legend (and underwear model) David Beckham to a ping
pong table courtesy of British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Part of Carolyn Hull’s job at the White House is to help organize and keep track of
the many gifts received by President Obama and his family.
“As the president and First Family receive certain gifts, I make sure they are properly
classified and appraised,” Carolyn says. “I also separately handle all the Spanish-language
correspondence the president receives. I make sure that these letters and emails receive
a proper response or are sent to someone who can help.”
A psychology and Hispanic studies double major, Carolyn relies on her Wesleyan education
to navigate her job in the Gift Unit, which she has held since 2010. “I did a lot
of writing and reading, which are very helpful to me now,” she says. “During my time
at IWU, I took only one political science class — but I find my psychology classes
to be useful in dealing with people every day.”
Carolyn’s language studies allowed her to take on another major task: reviewing the
president’s Spanish correspondence. “My don Quijote class with Carolyn Nadeau was
one of my favorites, and really helped me improve my Spanish,” she says. Her semester
in Spain as part of the Madrid Program was another highlight of her Wesleyan experience
“and is the reason I am fluent in Spanish.”
At IWU, she became active in politics as head of the Students for Barack Obama group.
She also interned as an Obama campaign field organizer, traveling throughout the Midwest.
After graduation, Carolyn was hired by the Colorado Democratic Party to work on several
campaigns and she also developed and implemented a Latino outreach program for Mark
Udall’s successful U.S. Senate run.
Now in the White House, she has personally met with President Obama and the First
Lady. “They are brilliant, down-to-earth people who genuinely have Americans’ best
interests in mind. Each day (the President) reads 10 letters from ordinary Americans.
These help him stay connected with the concerns of everyday Americans.”
The White House Gift Unit was launched during the Eisenhower administration to deal
with the increasing number of items presented to the Chief Executive by foreign officials
and U.S. citizens.
Most of the gifts she handles are from people the president meets personally, “including
heads of state, foreign officials, elected officials and others,” she says. If a foreign
leader gives a present valued under $350, the president can keep it. Gifts costing
more are considered a gift to the American people. The State Department carefully
catalogs the worth of each gift, and appropriate items are stored in the National
Archives until becoming part of the presidential library.
While the First Family receives a wide variety of gifts from U.S. citizens, “we strongly
encourage people to donate to charities instead and help those in need,” says Carolyn.
Another tip: forget the fruitcake. Food gifts are immediately discarded for safety
For those interested in following in her footsteps, Carolyn says, “I highly recommend
political internships, regardless of whether students are able to receive credit.
I would also encourage current or recently graduated students to apply for the White
House internship program and our Correspondence Volunteer Associates program. These
experiences are invaluable.”
Carolyn continues to be a bit in awe of being a part of history as a member of the
White House staff. “I work with wonderful, dedicated people and feel proud of the
work we do on behalf of the president and the American people,” she says. “Being able
to walk into the White House as a member of President Obama’s staff is an amazing