Clarin Gniffke is a senior staff member for U.S. Congresswoman Kay Granger, and she completed her master’s degree last year – taking her final two courses overseas at Oxford University. And she’s only 23.
Gniffke’s education began on the road. Her father’s job required him to travel frequently, so her parents, Cary and Carla Gniffke, decided to homeschool their two daughters.
“By the time I graduated high school, I had been to Mexico and Canada and 47 of the states,” Gniffke said. “It was really a unique experience to take school on the road and to find different places that we would be studying. We went to Mount St. Helens when we were talking about volcanoes. Stuff like that made it all come to life.”
When they were home in Millsap, Gniffke and her sister, Cameron Baldus, would participate in co-op classes and their local 4H program.
“We were super involved in lots of extracurricular activities,” Gniffke said. “It plugged me into the community more.”
With only a 15 month age difference, Gniffke began taking classes at Weatherford College at the same time as her older sister in 2009.
“When I graduated high school, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do for college,” she said. “That’s why Weatherford was so great. It was a comfortable environment. I could knock out my core classes without committing to a four-year degree track that I wasn’t sure about.”
Gniffke quickly found she excelled at public speaking and won the Best Communicator Award for her speech class during her first semester at WC. She also stepped out of her comfort zone and tried classes like Nancy McVean’s acting course.
“It was one of those off the wall things,” she said. “I would have never wanted to step on stage, but I found I could do it. It was exciting and a huge confidence builder.”
But it was her government class that sparked an intense interest, and in the summer of 2010, Gniffke was selected to an internship with Rep. Granger’s office in Washington, D.C.
“That’s what started my career path,” she said. “My internship, not coming from a really politically involved background, gave me a jump in head first. You have to be aware of what votes are happening today. And suddenly you have to learn huge amounts of history to give capital tours, which I loved. I thrived in that environment.”
Before leaving WC, Gniffke was selected as Miss Weatherford College and was contacted by Miss Texas Pageant organizers to participate in the state contest. She had never participated in a pageant, but she left the competition with a fitness award and the titles of Miss Congeniality and Back Stage Favorite.
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Gniffke transferred from WC to Regent University in 2011. She lived on campus at the Virginia Beach private school and also attended Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey via online classes.
“I was trying to finish my bachelor’s by May 2012, and to complete all of my classes I had to take on-campus full time and online full time,” she said. “It was a rough year. I don’t know why, but I had it in my mind that I wanted to get my degree before 20 so I could figure out what I wanted to do.”
She completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Communications in the spring of 2012 and moved to Capitol Hill where she worked for John Carter, U.S. Representative for Texas’ 31st Congressional District.
After only a few months on the job, Gniffke was in a horrible car accident. While sitting in traffic on the highway she was struck by another car traveling 55 mph. The accident required her to undergo several back surgeries and months of physical therapy, so she moved home to Millsap.
But Gniffke is not one to sit idle. While healing, she began taking classes online through Regent University for her master’s degree in Government and International Politics, and she stopped by Granger’s Fort Worth office to drop off her resume. She was quickly hired for a part-time position, which later turned into a full-time job, and she has worked her way up the ranks over the past three years.
“DC is a young city, but very cutthroat because everyone is trying to demand respect,” Gniffke said. ”I love being in the district, but Parker County is my home. People root for you and want you to do well."
Gniffke is now Granger’s Director of Outreach Operations and offices in Fort Worth. She acts as the eyes and ears for Granger in Texas’ 12th Congressional District, working with constituents from small towns in Parker and Wise counties to the big defense contractors in Fort Worth.
As for her future, she said her career path remains unseen.
“I don’t have a 20 year plan,” Gniffke said. “I don’t know that anyone ever does. Ultimately, no matter what job I’m in, no matter what career field I enter into, I’m just always going to strive for excellence. That’s my goal.”
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by Crystal Brown
The Hilltop, Fall 2015