An intern at 80?

How Sagamore brought together 2 generations to promote a stronger democracy

The Unlikely Duo Shaping the Future of Citizenship

Jim Dittoe has had many titles over the years as a small business owner and the chief executive of Chambers of Commerce and economic development organizations in three states.

But the 80-year-old Dittoe added an unlikely title to his resume this year: Intern at Sagamore Institute.

We asked Dittoe what it was like to serve with fellow interns who are younger than some of his 10 grandchildren.

“It’s engaging because of the other interns. They’re skilled and talented, and they’re dedicated,” Dittoe said. “They see the world differently than I do, but I was raised in a different time. I see that as an opportunity. Yes, I know my age, but I know I have experience, too.”

This summer, Dittoe was paired with fellow intern Ty Harrington, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Notre Dame, to focus on ways to promote civic engagement among younger Americans. Citizenship (civic engagement) is one of three pillars on which Sagamore is focusing its research and initiatives as the Institute approaches the 20th anniversary of its founding.

Harrington noted Americans’ deepening distrust of key institutions and growing concerns about the future of democracy. He also noted, however, that the nation has faced and overcome enormous challenges in the past.

“I’ve been reading a biography of John Marshall, the longest-serving chief justice of the Supreme Court. The biography addresses many of the conflicts the United States faced in its early years,” Harrington said. “So, as I was discouraged about the state of our democracy now, it took thinking about the first 45 years of the nation’s history to consider that our problems might not be as big as we think they are now. I’m confident that like we have in the past, our country seems to always find a way forward to solve problems. There’s definitely cause for concern, which is cause for action. But I think there’s more cause for optimism and hope.”

Harrington said working with Dittoe made his internship at Sagamore even more valuable than it might otherwise have been.

“It’s almost like I’ve had two advisers during the internship,” he said. “Jim is definitely a partner, but he’s more than that because of his experience and wisdom.”