The Return: DC 2010

Ward Mailliard - Program Leader
Ward Mailliard Program Leader

The final act of our journey is the Washington, D.C. Assembly where we invite our school community, families, and friends to hear the experiences of the returning students. This act of witnessing allows the community to understand and appreciate the growth each of the students has made as they talk to those assembled about what they learned on their journey. This is an important moment for both the community and the students. It is the, frequently neglected and yet very significant, “return” stage of the journey. Often there is emotion and pride, and even tears as parents witness their children and their classmates demonstrating new depth and capacity as they enter into a new stage of maturity,. When that happens both the students and the community that has supported them are validated. We all know that something important has occurred.

This year it was with great pleasure that I listened to the students talk about what transpired on their journey to Washington, D.C. I wish that each of you who took the time to speak with the students could hear how deeply you impacted these young men and women. In the assembly, the students gave voice to the values that you spoke and the generous actions you displayed. How grateful we all are that you gave us your time and your wisdom. The greatest teaching of all, is in your willingness to spend precious time with the students and to do so with such sincerity and kindness. It inspires and instructs in a deep way. Your kind and simple act of mentoring reunites the generations, and invigorates the possibility of a more caring community and committed citizenship. Thank you.
-Ward Mailliard
Program Leader
Values in World Thought

Student Reflections

Anneka Lettunich
Anneka Lettunich

I was surprised by every single person we interviewed in Washington D.C. Active participation in the government has never been my calling. When I went to Washington, I assumed the people wouldn’t interest me because their jobs didn’t. Politics seemed like a field in which concrete thinking was the only acceptable approach and abstract, philosophical thinking wouldn’t propel the system forward.

However, I was hugely mistaken. Not only were the people we met deep, philosophical thinkers, but they were able to articulate their thoughts and theories in a way that made them accessible to whomever they were speaking to. A perfect embodiment of this was Leonard McCarthy. His work in based on the philosophy of integrity and honesty. Measuring a nation’s integrity based on its financial stability and dependency on corruption is less a mathematical equation than a philosophical one. Honesty and trust in itself is an abstract theory because it lies in the eyes of the individual. To hold a job like this, McCarthy must have a clear discerning eye to solve conflicts. Having and using your own morals and values as a compass to guide your work is a task many of us are not cut out to do. This makes him the more admirable to me.
-Anneka Lettunich


Susie Bryan

So I guess it all boils down to the art of thinking as an individual. The more we think for ourselves, the better our country gets, and the better we become as citizens. Being informed, forming our own opinions, and then standing up for our values is the only way anyone or anything moves forward. Talking to these people, who have created their own ideas and thoughts about themselves and the world, proved to me that that is the best way to live. It also showed me that our country’s leaders are doing their best to stand up for us and to allow us to do the same thing they are. As Congressman Sam Farr said: “My job is to empower people so they can open their own doors.” I definitely feel empowered.
-Susie Bryan

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Day Ten: The Last Conversation

Interview with Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues

Lindsey Colton

Melanne Verveer

Our final interview of the trip was with Ambassador Melanne Verveer. This interview made the experience come full circle for me. We began our journey interviewing Vital voices President, Alyse Nelson, and ended it by interviewing Ambassador Melanne Verveer, one of the founders of Vital Voices. Ambassador Verveer spoke about many of the same issues. She also echoed Alyse Nelson saying that we as teenagers need to be aware of those issues and actively work to change them. Melanne Verveer seemed to have confidence in us. She said, “You are the future!…You have the power inside you!” Her parting advice to us was that we must be participatory citizens and to appreciate our rights. It’s a gift in itself to be born into this country, but with this gift comes the responsibility to be conscious of the issues we face and help those who aren’t as fortunate as we are. She also reassured us that no matter what we can make a difference. She said, “One person can make a difference, in fact, it’s the only thing that has ever made a difference.” Hearing this from someone who has had such a positive impact on so many peoples lives inspired me and gave me confidence that if I care and try, I can make a difference.
-Lindsey Colton


Michaela Schuessler

I will admit, at first I thought I just wanted to get through the last interview of the trip and get on the plane home. However, once the interview with Ambassador Verveer began she changed all that. The things she said drew me in and seeing how willing she was to be there with us made me be present and take in the last interview of the trip. Many things she said stood out for me. One of them was, “Human rights are universal rights.” All of us have the same rights no matter where we are in the world. This is one of the things that connect us. I never really thought about it this way before.

Another thing that struck me was when she said, “One person can make a difference, in fact it’s the only thing that has ever made a difference.” I have always heard people say that one person can make a difference but when she said that it is the only way we have been making a difference it had an impact on me. I thought back on all the people that have made a difference in the world. Change always starts with one person wanting to change the world and then they go out and change it. Yes, they have people who help them along the way but they came up with the idea and they went out and made the change happen. Ambassador Verveer’s words gave me faith that no matter who you are, if you are committed, you can make a difference. It doesn’t have to be a big change; even a small deed will make an impact.
-Michaela Schuessler


Day Nine: Connecting Our World

Interview with Reverend Mpho Tutu

Soma Sharan

Mpho Tutu

The purpose of our trip to Washington D.C. is to learn from people who are leaders in their areas of expertise. Everyday I have learned something that will remain with me forever. Alyse Nelson told us soak up knowledge, Layli Miller-Muro and many others told us to be passionate about what we do, and Loretta Sanchez said to never give up.

Today we talked to Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s daughter, Reverend Mpho Tutu. She had many interesting things to say but one thing struck me in particular. She told us how this morning when she dropped her daughter off at school one of the teachers turned around and gave her a big, genuine smile. This one simple act made her stop and think about how small things, that we may not pay much attention to, can make a difference. This is perhaps one of the most important lessons I have learned throughout this trip. While talking to many of the individuals we interviewed this week I kept focusing on my future and what direction my life will take. Mpho Tutu made me aware of the fact that I need to live in the present and notice the things around me. Today’s interview made me realize that I have been so concerned about what’s to come, that I have forgotten to notice what is happening now.
-Soma Sharan


Mara Getz


When I came back from South Africa I tried to describe the term ubuntu, an African word meaning, “A person’s a person through other people.” I tried to express the emotion I felt upon seeing the little kids at Cotlands Aids Orphanage, or how the women singing at the Philani Project inspired me. But despite my honest efforts, I couldn’t seem to get the message across about the deeper meaning of ubuntu. Today sitting in the interview with Reverend Tutu, I began to feel those South Africa feelings. I could feel the inspiration, emotion and happiness, coming back. Then, when we asked her what she had learned from her father she said, “The quality of life is made up of the quality of our interactions.” Instantly I knew that that small phrase, that compilation of a few words, expressed the feelings of ubuntu I had been trying to make clear for a year now. There were so many ways in which Reverend Tutu was like her father, she was kind, and compassionate, she had that sparkle, and much of what she told us was, in essence, what her father had wanted us to understand as well. But she was her own person. She was strong, powerful, and she seemed to have the capacity to do whatever she wanted. Her dreams are her own. She is not her father, she is her own self, and I will never forget what she gave us.
-Mara Getz

Interview with Reverend Mpho Tutu

Day Eight: Embodying Values

Interview with Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez

Brittany Lovato

Loretta Sanchez

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez has a fiery passion for what she thinks is right. One issue she supports is the right of women to be in combat. She explained to us that legally women aren’t allowed to fight on the frontline but in reality they are already there fighting. Since women’s accomplishments in combat can’t be formally recognized or honored they never go on their records. This means that they cannot move as far up the military ranks as men who have served in combat. Recently, Loretta Sanchez introduced a bill that would formally allow women to be in combat. She was very disappointed when this law did not pass. Congresswoman Sanchez made such a strong argument for the bill that I did not understand why people would not support it.

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez had positive things to say about the leadership role that the United States plays in the world arena. We asked her about the perception that the United States is on the decline. She said that yes there are problems, but that we are still the world leader. “This is our century,” she said. This gave me a lot of hope for the U.S. and our role in the world.

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez was a very enthusiastic woman. Her advice to us was to find what we are passionate about. She has definitely achieved this for herself. I have no doubt that she is making a difference by pursuing what she is passionate about. This gives me hope for our country. I know that we have men and women, as passionate and as driven as Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who on a daily basis are fighting for what they think is right.
-Brittany Lovato


Mara Getz


We heard that Nancy Pelosi said, “When Loretta Sanchez came into the House, she changed the way people interact.” When Congresswoman Sanchez walked into the room I understood why Speaker Pelosi said this. She was full of energy and she interacted with us as adults not as children. She listened to our questions intently and she answered them directly. When at the end of the interview we asked her for advice, she responded by telling us her “Five P’s” for success: plan, partner, perspiration, passion, and last but not least, perseverance. She told us to plan for the future and have someone, or multiple people, to share our lives and our successes/failures with. She said we should work hard for what we want and be passionate about what we do. Lastly, she said we should persevere. She illustrated the last P by telling us a story about a congressman that ran FIVE times for Congress before he won his seat. It was Congressman Collin Peterson of Minnesota and he is now the Chairman of the powerful Agricultural Committee.

I found Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez to be an inspiration. She showed enthusiasm in all aspects of our interview. She emphasized how creativity and innovation are what make this nation strong. Hearing her advice made me feel confident in what I want to accomplish and reassured me that I can make my own path. She reminded me that if I want it enough, I WILL find a way to do it.
-Mara Getz

Interview with Loretta Sanchez

Interview with Congressman John Lewis

PK Hattis

John Lewis

Discipline. Nothing in life is simpler and yet nothing in life is more difficult. There are few people in this world that are able to find something that they are committed to and discipline themselves so that they never lose sight of their goal. Life has many distractions and complications and if we indulge them for a mere second, our discipline vanishes. Congressman John Lewis is among these select few that can actually find something that is significant in their life and discipline themselves to hold fast to it. For Congressman Lewis, that commitment is a devotion to nonviolence that began back in the early 60’s when he marched with the great Martin Luther King Jr.

To be honest, I went into our interview with Congressman Lewis with very high expectations. Each class that had interviewed him in prior years raved about how fantastic and inspiring their interview with him was. Expectations aren’t often met but in this case, I am happy to say, there was nothing more I could have hoped for. Congressman Lewis had a quiet, reserved and yet very bold presence. He is one of those people you meet in life that when they enter a room, you know they are there. It didn’t take long for our class to become involved in a very deep conversation about his past involvement in the civil rights movement. Hearing Congressman Lewis’ stories about being beaten and verbally abused, I was astonished to think that not only was he able to forgive the people who caused him harm, he was also able to keep from retaliating against them. Any person who didn’t have a steady grip on their values would have succumbed to the natural instinct to fight back and protect himself. Congressman Lewis taught me that having discipline allows you to stay true to your values and true to yourself. Anyone can claim to have a certain set of values but these values are very difficult to adhere to if discipline is lacking. Having faith in your values is what sustains you in situations when you need them most. Congressman Lewis recognized this fact at a very young age and as a result he has lived a life of success and perseverance. Most importantly, he has had a life of personal fulfillment and satisfaction, knowing that he has a strong set of values that he can hold on to in extreme circumstance. Congressman John Lewis taught me about the importance of establishing life values and sticking to them no matter what. I will never forget this.
-PK Hattis


Dani Quinn


Motivational, inspirational, and humbling are only three of the words that come to mind when I think about Congressman John Lewis. He was poised and modest in his answers and his thoughts. Most importantly, he had the strength to forgive people who had caused him unimaginable harm. I don’t know if I could ever be as forgiving or as strong as he is.

Congressman Lewis entered the room and sat down so we could begin. He opened up the conversation by talking to us about the Civil Rights Movement and the part he played in it. He also talked about the changes he has seen in this country. He said that we should come walk a mile in his shoes, and we would see how our country has changed during his lifetime. Our country, in fifty years, has gone from a place where African Americans were beaten and had tear gas released on them for protesting unjust practices, to a country led by an African American President; the change and growth has been exceptional. Congressman John Lewis said that he cried when President Obama won the election and that he cried again on January 20th, 2010, the day of the Inauguration.

Emma Petersen asked Congressman Lewis if he believed we, as a country, were doing a good job standing for what is “right”. He said, “I am shamed and disgraced we’re not doing more. Our government needs to do more to say no to violence and no to genocide. We should do much more.” I felt like this was a realistic response.

Another response that struck me was his answer to Mara’s question, “How do you forgive the people that have inflicted so much pain in your life?” Congressman Lewis explained, “Forgiveness is powerful, it is redemptive.” He also said, “Love is more powerful than hate, and non-violence is more powerful than violence. It is a principle you do not give up on.”

His parting advice to us was, “If you see something that is not right, is wrong, or is unjust, do something about it. Don’t be quiet. Cause trouble, the necessary type of trouble.”
-Dani Quinn

Interview with John Lewis


Interview with Congressman Sam Farr

Amar Nijor

Sam Farr

Without Congressman Sam Farr and Tom Tucker we would not have had many of the opportunities we had during this trip. They both worked hard to help us with many of the congressional interviews that we had. By the time we sat down for our actual interview with Congressman Farr, we had already seen him on the Capitol steps and spent time with him in the House Gallery.

Congressman Sam Farr is the kind of guy that people love to be around. The way he treats everyone, from his staff to his co-workers, showed us what a genuine person he is. It is no wonder that so many of his fellow representatives agreed to meet with us when he asked them to.

When it came time to interview him, I was very tired. It had been a long day. However, as soon as he walked through the door, I felt the same sense of excitement and intrigue I had felt when we walked with him around our nation’s capitol. He sat down and before we began the interview he asked us all how we were. He specifically asked for Lindsey because a mutual friend had told him to say “hello” to her. This demonstrated to me how much he values relationships.

Overall, I think that Congressman Farr is a great person and an asset to our D.C. trip. Our time with him exceeded my expectations. I already knew he was an amazing man, our interview with him only strengthened this belief.
-Amar Nijor


Jack Massion


Congressman Sam Farr said two things that I found to be particularly interesting. The first was the idea that it is important to go out and explore the world. Congressman Farr said, “Where you live is not the real world.” To me this means that to be a well-rounded person you need to break away from your comfort zone. Every time I travel I learn new things about that place and the people there. For example, we learned about the value of community in South Africa. Congressman Farr definitely understood this. He said, “I never wanted to stop being a wanderer and exploring the world”. To me this means he has a continual thirst for knowledge.

The second thing that I found to be particularly interesting was when Congressman Farr said, “Poverty breeds no hope.” I agree with this statement. I saw evidence of this in my travels to South Africa and Mexico. I saw the way in which poverty decreases hope. Lessons like these are why traveling should be an integral part of higher education.
-Jack Massion


Lily Connor

Emma Peterson


Our goal in coming to Washington DC was to interview people who embody the values we’re studying in the Values in World Thought Program and that we think are important in our lives. One of the values Mount Madonna School has really emphasized is to give back to the community. During our interview with Congressman Sam Farr he supported this value by saying that we have a responsibility to give back. It’s nice to know that someone like Congressman Sam Farr represents the district most of us live in and that he embodies the same values our school is teaching us to embody.

Throughout this trip we have realized the extraordinary opportunities that we are exposed to and the inherent privileges we are given. We have also realized that by being given these gifts we have the obligation and responsibility to give back to the world.
-Lily Connor and Emma Peterson

Day Seven: Global Citizenship

Interview with Dr. Martha Kanter
Under Secretary of Education

Lily Connor
Martha Kanter

On Sunday a group of us surrounded the glass table in Millie Mailliard’s living room, ready to prepare for our upcoming interview with Dr. Martha Kanter, the Under Secretary of Education. Soon after, a heated discussion began about the state of our education system. Many of us in the group have strong feelings about the education system in the U.S. We have taken, or are about to take, standardized tests that will determine our future and many of us have recently made decisions about where we will attend college. This conversation generated many interesting questions for Dr. Kanter and made us greatly anticipate our upcoming interview.

As soon as Dr. Kanter walked in the room and introduced herself we began to ask our questions. One question we asked was, “What do you think constitutes a fully educated person today?” She responded by emphasizing the importance of civic engagement, global competency, and the ability to think critically about the most pressing problems, locally and globally. She said that it is important that our education system instill the values of democracy and highlight the importance of students’ contributions to society. This was really interesting to me because I don’t think that any of the things that she felt constituted a fully educated person are measured by the SAT.
-Lily Connor


Emma Peterson


Today started off with an early wake up and a hectic transition to our first interview of the day at the Department of Education. We interviewed Dr. Martha Kanter, the Under Secretary of Education. She began the interview with an introduction that I really liked, she said, “Be ready for anything in your life, and the best thing that you can do is graduate from high school, go to college and get a good job that makes you happy.” I agree with this statement because I think a lot of people graduate and go to college and then get a job that doesn’t really matter to them. This attitude bothers me because you can generally do whatever you want with enough determination and persistence. I try hard to be persistent in everything I do. I appreciated hearing Dr. Kanter reinforce something that I am already doing.
-Emma Peterson

Interview with Dr. Martha Kanter

Interview with Erica Barks-Ruggles
Deputy Assistant to the Permanent Representative of the U.S. to the United Nations

Haley Turner
Erica Barks-Ruggles

Our second interview today was with Erica Barks-Ruggles, the Deputy Assistant to the Permanent Representative of the U.S. to the United Nations. She had a very powerful presence that instantly commanded my attention. Erica Barks-Ruggles was enthusiastic, eloquent and passionate about the issues she spoke of. She told us about a project in which she helped obtain funds from the U.S. government to provide education for girls in Africa. Eventually through a combination of private and public funds, the project raised $780 million and in turn put 44,000 girls through school. She was pleased to tell us that the project still exists today.

I was also struck when Erica Barks-Ruggles said that being born in the U.S. is like winning the lottery. We have been given so much, yet we take it for granted on a daily basis. She said that since we have been born into such prosperity and opportunity, it is our obligation to give back. The essential question we need to ask ourselves, as a nation, is, “What are we doing to give back?” Erica said, “You can accomplish way more when you give something away.” This sentiment reinforced my commitment to the values of volunteer work and community service. I believe that helping others is not only beneficial to those I help, but also to me.

I found this interview to be particularly interesting, engaging and inspiring. I thought Erica’s discussion about the importance of giving back connected to Alyse Nelson’s idea of leadership. Alyse said that it is important to, “Pay forward the investments made in you.” I think that Erica Barks-Ruggles is doing just that. She is doing something positive and constructive on a large scale, and I admire her greatly for it.
-Haley Turner


Interview with James Fallows
National Correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly

Benjamin Mangus
James Fallows

Today we interviewed a man by the name of James Fallows. He is a national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly. The Atlantic Monthly is a literary and cultural commentary magazine. James Fallows said in his interview with us that his goal as a journalist is to give people a story with a different perspective.
He talked to us about his passions and skills. One of the things that caught my attention was when he said,” Try to learn a new skill or gain a new passion every ten years. This will make your life much more interesting.” He embodies this attitude toward life. He has been a speechwriter, a journalist, an editor, a program designer, and a private pilot. I think that I was particularly interested in this because I am about to graduate from high school. After that I will enter the work force and I need to find something I am passionate about. He seemed very passionate about his work. In fact, he urged to consider to becoming journalists.
James Fallows responded quickly to our questions. His answers were witty. He is one of the brightest men I have ever met. Anyone would be lucky to turn out as smart and successful as he is.
-Benjamin Mangus


Emma Fladeboe

After going through persistent efforts to add James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly to our list of interviews, I was both excited and anxious for the interview. I didn’t exactly know what to expect. I anticipated that it would be a memorable interview, and I hoped that the interview would be as interesting to me as his articles.
My prior assumptions about the interview proved to be correct. I found Mr. Fallows to be sharp, strikingly articulate, quick witted, intellectual, and engaging. He was both didactic and direct in his responses. Mr. Fallows has an outlook and perspective that incites curiosity and interest about the process of how he comes to his conclusions. When asked about his general philosophy of writing he said that, “Good journalism shows your work” and that good journalism helps people understand the thought process of the writer. He said the writing is meant to cause some opposition and as a journalist, “You always want to cause controversy of a sort.” He said that he doesn’t want to tell people what they already know; he wants to make them re-evaluate their notions.

It seems to me that Mr. Fallows does all of this. He has a very thoughtful, stimulating, and straightforward outlook that I strive to emulate. He told us how important he thinks it is to, “See things from the outside” and “continue to re-immerse oneself in different environments.” I believe this accounts for much of Mr. Fallows unique and perceptive understanding of the world.
A secondary and more subtle observation I had of Mr. Fallows is that he talks in a similar manner to the way he writes. The poet Derek Walcott said, “It takes all your life to write the way you speak without faking it.” I think that this is an accurate description of the talent that Mr. Fallows has acquired. In his discussion with us, I noticed the same wit, fluency, and preciseness that is present in his writing. He took us step by step through his thought process, leading us to a clear and defined point. This process was similar to how one might prove a point in a well thought out and organized piece of writing.
The most noteworthy thing I took away from this interview is the magnitude of having experiences, particularly those apart from one’s own system and comfort zone, and how much those experiences can impact a person’s life. Immersing oneself in different environments creates an outlook that allows one to make informed decisions about the world, society and the people within it. In Mr. Fallows words, “Life is big and interesting . . . everyone should be interested in everything . . . be adventurous, brave, and interested in life”.
-Emma Fladeboe

Interview with James Fallows

Day Six: The Admiral and the White House

Interview with Admiral Stephen Rochon
Director of the Executive Residence

Noah Limbach

Admiral Rochon

Today we had an interview with Admiral Stephen Rochon, a retired Coast Guard admiral who now holds the position of Executive Director of the White House Residence. After 36 years in the Coast Guard, Admiral Rochon was hired to be the Executive Director of the White House Residence by President George W. Bush. He is one of five people in Coast Guard history who began as an enlisted man and achieved the rank of Admiral. As Director of the Executive Residence, it is his job to keep the White House running smoothly as a home for the President and a historic shrine for the American public. His duties include everything from managing the staff who oversee upkeep, repairs and the grounds to choosing a swing set for the Obamas. He greets the President most every morning and walks with him to the Oval Office. He has met such important guests as the Pope, Queen Elizabeth II and even Stevie Wonder. Admiral Rochon is responsible for the coordination of 95 people, including housekeepers, painters, carpenters, cooks, plumbers and gardeners. Watching him interact with the White House staff today was a learning experience. He had a friendly word for everyone we met.

We conducted our interview in the White House movie theater. Admiral Rochon’s story was amazing. He is one of the most deeply committed people I have ever met, both in serving his country and serving the First Family. He said his biggest priority was to make sure “that there was always a smile on the First Lady’s face,” because that means the staff is doing its job well and the White House is running smoothly. After our interview, we took a tour of the White House. We saw several rooms and learned about things that are not usually on the main tour. Along the way we met Bo, the Obama family dog who was very friendly and not bothered by being greeted by 31 eager students.
-Noah Limbach


Cliff Randolph

In front of South lawn

Today everyone was excited to go to the White House. We waited by the entry gate for a bit before Admiral Rochon came to meet our group. When he arrived he went down the line shaking everyone’s hand as we introduced ourselves. He was easygoing and seemed genuinely glad to see us. He took us through security and into the White House.

He had so much wisdom to share with us. One of the things he seemed especially adamant about was the concept of showing gratitude. He told us that it is always important to let people know that what they do is appreciated, even if that person does not think their job is important in the grand scheme of things. Many of his values were “people centered.” When he was asked about the similarities between the two different presidents that he had served, he focused on how they were both very family oriented, and truly loved their wives and kids. We also asked him about the comparative intensity involved in his earlier in the Coast Guard, and as his current job as Executive Director. He told us that however intense a job is, it is important to always leave that intensity at work, so as to be able to really spend quality time with your family. Another piece of wisdom he shared with us is that we should remember that there are people out there who will always be willing to help us and that we can’t do everything on our own.
-Cliff Randolph


Jack Massion


Admiral Rochon truly embodied hospitality. Being responsible for running the White House is a major job, but somehow Admiral Rochon still found the time to sit with us and give us a great interview. The message I heard from Admiral Rochon that was the most significant to me, was that it is important to be optimistic and seize the opportunities that come your way. While talking to us about future plans for his own life he said, “There is still something more out there for me.” Just afterwards he commented, “I always think that a challenge is an opportunity waiting around the corner”. For me, both of these quotes showed his optimism. I feel the first quote symbolizes his attitude toward life during times of change in the sense that he knows he has a purpose. The second is his overall take on life and explains why he has had so many amazing achievements. When you believe that challenges in your life are an opportunity waiting to happen, you set yourself up to try hard.

I think Admiral Rochon’s advice “to be optimistic” is very relevant to this trip. If we take Admiral Rochon’s advice and approach every challenge as another opportunity waiting to happen, we can really get the most out of this experience. A good example of this advice is that earlier in the week, when we were offered a last minute opportunity to converse with Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley we took it. Because we were open and willing to meet the challenge, we got the chance to talk to a very intelligent and engaging woman. I realize we don’t have to wait to follow his wisdom.
-Jack Massion

Day Five: Congressional Engagement

Interview with Howard Berman

Michaela Schuessler
Mara Getz
Brittany Lovato

This morning we headed to the Rayburn House Office building, a beautiful and ornate structure. Adorning the walls were paintings of important individuals and events in American history. I knew we were going to have a full day. We had three interviews lined up with Congressman Howard Berman, Congressman Barney Frank, and Congressman Dennis Kucinich. I was excited but also a bit nervous because I did not know what to expect.

Just as we were settling into the room we were told that our interview with Congressman Howard Berman had been moved upstairs to a larger room. We gathered our bags and the camera equipment and headed up to the next floor. We entered the room and took a moment to arrange the chairs and get situated. Shortly after, Congressman Howard Berman entered the room and sat down.

Howard Berman

When the interview first began he seemed a bit quiet and even reserved. It appeared to me that he quickly became aware that we had done our homework. As we started asking our questioned he seemed to enjoy that we had made an effort, and as the interview progressed we became more confident.

The main lesson that Congressman Berman taught me was to be optimistic. He said that being a Congressperson would be, “A stupid job to take if you are not optimistic.” He said that if he let things in Congress get him down he would leave every day with his head hung low and wanting to quit. Part of what keeps him optimistic is his belief that Congress is about making incremental, small changes. These changes may not get you in the spotlight but they can change the quality of people’s lives.

I was also struck when Congressman Berman said, “Helping people is the right thing to do, but it is also the smart thing to do.” It was reassuring to know how much he cared about helping others. To say that helping people is the “smart thing to do” is a strong comment. I agree with him because service has been a big part of my life and I hope that my future career will be based around service.
-Michaela Schuessler, Mara Getz, Brittany Lovato


Conversation with Tom Tucker

Sara Birns

Tom Tucker

Before our interview with Barney Frank we had the opportunity to visit with Tom Tucker, Congressman Farr’s Appointment Secretary. We asked him questions about his job and the people he works with.

Tom Tucker was a light-hearted and soft-spoken guy who was a delight to speak to. He told us what it was like to work with Congressman Sam Farr. He said that Congressman Farr loves talking to people and engaging in big picture conversations. He said that the best part of his job is that he never gets bored.
-Sara Birns



Interview with Barney Frank

Haley Turner
Barney Frank

Our second interview of the day was with Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts. Congressman Frank was the first openly gay member of Congress and is known for being fairly brash and outspoken. When Congressman Frank walked into the room, he was holding a crumpled up newspaper and wore a slightly wrinkled shirt. I was a bit intimidated at first by the way Congressman Frank sat down and immediately asked for questions. My classmates timidly began asking our prepared questions. He answered very intelligently and articulately. Once I saw how thoughtful his responses were I was put at ease.

I enjoyed our interview with Congressman Frank because I felt he gave us the most raw and candid responses to our questions. The part of our interview with Congressman Barney Frank that I found to be the most significant was his response to a question I asked him. The question referred to Historian Barbara Tuchman who said that it is essential for society to have a positive goal or vision for itself. I asked Congressman Frank what his vision for America was. He responded by saying that he disagreed with Tuchman’s sentiment and that he didn’t have a vision for America. He went on to say that all he wanted for Americans was a society free of poverty and sufficient resources to be happy. Congressman Frank said, “People should eat well, be happy however they want and get a good night’s sleep.” He also said, “I don’t believe America needs a national purpose”. Congressman Frank brought up the point that when a county has an aspiration or a target, the goal is often unrelated to the welfare of its people. Congressman Frank said he would rather see the billions of dollars spent on the Mars space exploration program go to “having less kids go hungry”. He felt that America doesn’t need to be the greatest country in the world; it just needs to take care of its people.

-Haley Turner

Barney Frank Interview

Interview with Dennis Kucinich

Dennis Kucinich

James Clifton

Going into the interview with Congressman Kucinich, I had very few expectations. He quickly caught my interest when he started talking about our society’s “disconnect from nature.” This was important to me because I feel like a lot of the time we forget the impact we have on the environment and on nature. I appreciated his thoughtfulness and clear answers. At the end of the interview he had his assistant take all of our names so that he could give us copies of his book. I am excited to read it.
-James Clifton


Lindsey Colton

I think what I got most out of the interview today with Congressmen Dennis Kucinich was his sense of unity. “We need to own where we come from”, he said passionately. Congressmen Kucinich spoke about how all of us on this planet are intertwined. He thinks that we are forgetting our connection to the natural world and he finds this troubling. He thinks we need to change our relationship with the planet. He said that the connection between man and nature brings a sense of happiness that can’t be found through materialism and money. As a man who came from poverty, who is now a Congressman, Kucinich embodies the American Dream. He can now use his position to give voice to those who have none. He said, “We are here to put spiritual principals in the materialistic world.” In one way or another, everything Congressman Kucinich spoke about referenced the idea that, as a whole, we need more unity. I think Congressman Kucinich is an inspiration to all.

-Lindsey Colton


Maya Guzman


Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Jackie Speier are the two people we’ve interviewed who I feel most embody the core principles that they advised us to exemplify. Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who we interviewed Wednesday, advised us to “keep moving forward” no matter what. Congressman Kucinich advised us to “never give up.”
By the time Congressman Kucinich was 17 and left home, he had lived in 21 different places including cars. There were times when his family did not know when or where the next dollar was coming from. He also told us a story of when he was three years old and he learned to read. Through reading he was able to experience the world without actually seeing it, keeping all he learned inside. This allowed him to differentiate and maintain a balance between his internal and external worlds. I appreciated it when he said, “Everyday we meet resistance.” This helped me to see that the difficulties in life can be approached with a positive attitude. Both Congresswoman Speier and Congressman Kucinich showed us that life may present us with unreasonable and unfair situations or choices. We can only survive these unfortunate events by having the will to move forward and never giving up.
-Maya Guzman
Dennis Kucinich Interview


Working the Steps
Chelsea Bess

When I woke up today I was expecting another day of interviews and nothing too out of the ordinary. After our three interviews, we walked over to the Capitol building. We stood on the steps waiting for Congressmen and Congresswomen to walk out from the vote they had just made. At first I felt nervous to go up to them. I thought that they would consider this a nuisance. I thought that because they are so important that they would have better things to do than talk to a bunch of high school students.
On the Capital Steps

The first person I talked to was a Congresswoman from Wisconsin named Gwen Moore. I was pleasantly surprised by the interest and kindness she showed me. After speaking with her, we approached Jeff Flake, who we had interviewed the day before. He remembered us and was excited to see us again. I found it funny that as we were talking to him, other Congressmen as they went by were making teasing remarks about how popular he looked. Next came one of our best interactions of all: Congressman Sam Farr. He is a very nice, friendly, and sociable man. It helped that Ward is friends with him, calling him “Uncle Sam.” We had a very long amiable conversation with him. This led to a tour of the Capitol building and we went to the gallery to watch the Congress vote on a resolution. I found it hard to follow what was happening on the House floor but it was interesting to find the Congressmen and Congresswomen we knew. We excitedly pointed out those we had already interviewed and the ones that we were going to interview later in the trip. We then had the honor to go tour Congressman Sam Farr’s office, where he showed us some of his memorabilia. Today was a very spontaneous day and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s crazy the kind of people you meet here in D.C. The opportunities just seem to keep coming.
-Chelsea Bess


Amar Nijor

Meeting John Lewis

Today solidified everything we have been practicing and preparing for this trip. Today was a day I felt that we were given the opportunity to really show our capabilities. We managed to hold our own when interviewing strong minded Congressmen such as Dennis Kucinich, Barney Frank, and Howard Berman. We even had the chance to work the Capitol steps and introduce ourselves to the Congressmen and Congresswomen coming from the House floor. It was an exhilarating process because I never knew how the conversation would progress. I could sense that some of the people were in a hurry and I just let them go. Others were more approachable, but not very talkative. Then there were some who were open and willing to engage with me in that moment, right then and there. We managed to get a few good conversations through “working the steps”. For example, we ran into Congressman Jeff Flake who we had interviewed the day before. He was happy to see us and mentioned how impressed he was with our interview questions. We also ran into Congressman John Lewis, who we are going to be meeting with in just a few days. One of the most intriguing Representatives we talked to was someone we had never heard of before, Congressman Parker Griffith. He is a Congressman from Alabama. He was very interested in what we had to say and we managed to throw in a few general questions. It was like a mini-interview on the Capitol steps.
After wrapping up our conversations, we all met up with our own Congressman Sam Farr on the Capitol steps and headed for a tour of the Capitol building. He took us around and we sat in the House Gallery to watch some of the debates and votes on the House floor. Afterwards, he took us to his office and explained to us more about the details his job.
When I entered his office, I saw a woman behind the front desk. She looked extremely familiar so I asked Tom Tucker who she was. She was an intern and it was her first day on the job. I asked her where she was from and she said Scotts Valley, CA. It turns out that we went to middle school together. Seeing her there showed me that I could be that person. If I want to do something, I can do it. I guess that’s what I got out of the day. Hard work and preparation pay off.
-Amar Nijor
Working the Steps

Day Four: Teaching Moments

Interview with Leonard McCarthy
Vice President for Institutional Integrity, World Bank

Emma Fladeboe

Leonard McCarthy and students

We walked through the halls of the World Bank, not knowing what to expect. We entered a room that resembled many of the other rooms we have occupied for interviews over the last few days. When Leonard McCarthy, the Vice President for Institutional Integrity at the World Bank, entered the room and sat down, I began to introduce the group to him. I finished my introduction with, “If you have any opening remarks we would love to hear them.” It was then that the interview became both demanding and truly rewarding.
Leonard McCarthy took the opportunity I had given him, and handed it right back to us. “What is your impression of the World Bank?” he asked. With that question, what we had anticipated was going to be an interview became a conversation. He asked us questions about corruption in government. He asked us whether corruption should be allowed even on a small scale. This discussion led us to the question, “What is integrity?” We began to discuss this issue and other economic issues with him. I was grateful for our time with Leonard McCarthy because I felt that he sincerely appreciated our responses and our input. He wrote down what we had to say. We were not treated as students, but as people whose involvement was significant. There is nothing more gratifying than having someone so intelligent and so important genuinely value your contribution.
Our exchange with Leonard McCarthy is ultimately what our Values class was meant to prepare us for: to be able to discuss openly the issues and values of the world with figures that have significant influence. Sharing our opinions and perceptions of the world with Leonard McCarthy was a worthwhile and fulfilling experience.
-Emma Fladeboe


Mari Fox

Our interview with Leonard McCarthy was the interview I had been anticipating the most. He had been on my radar for weeks and I was ready to speak to him, especially at the World Bank.

From the moment Leonard McCarthy walked into the room we could tell it wasn’t going to be an average interview. He came in and insisted that we eat treats and get something to drink. When we sat down at the table, he asked us to go around and say our names. The usual formality that is present at the beginning of most interviews disappeared and Mr. McCarthy acknowledged each of us and made us feel welcome. In my experience, this seems to be a common South African trait.

Instead of us asking Leonard McCarthy questions, he asked us questions about whether we thought any percentage of corruption was OK and what we thought integrity meant. He listened to us, intently soaking up everything we said and writing down what he thought was important. He made us feel like our ideas mattered. He turned the tables on us and we were ready for it. This experience was everything that the Values in World Thought class prepares us for. We worked hard and it paid off.

Mr. McCarthy said that he wanted to take 5 ideas from us and communicate them with his staff. We all had something to contribute to the conversation. It was fulfilling to feel like we had ideas to share with him. After our interview, Mr. McCarthy paraded us through his office and introduced us to some of the “corruption fighters”, as he called them. This interview was everything I had hoped for. I couldn’t have asked for more.
-Mari Fox

Students' Respond to Leonard McCarthy Interview

Interview with Congresswoman Jackie Speier

Erin Mitchell

Jackie Speier

Congresswoman Jackie Speier rushed in, a whirlwind of papers in hand, lipstick and high heels. She immediately took her seat at the front of the room. “We’re really rushed for time,” her assistant apologetically explained. We turned our attention to the powerful force that is Congresswoman Jackie Speier and listened intently for 20 minutes to her story of tragedy and inspiration. It was clear that she had told the of being shot in Guyana many times before but that didn’t take away from the intensity of her story. Her ability to bounce back from many devastating experiences was, to say the very least, motivating. Nothing I have been through can compare to losing a husband, having multiple miscarriages or being shot five times and watching friends die around me.

After working so hard researching Congresswoman Speier and writing questions, I had an expectation of who she would be. It turns out that she did not fill my expectations; she surpassed them. Although the interview was limited, and we weren’t able to ask many of the questions we had been preparing, those few short minutes left us captivated.
-Erin Mitchell


Mara Getz

As we crammed into the relatively small room, Congresswoman Jackie Speier came rushing in. She told us a heart-wrenching tale that included getting shot, her husband’s death and losing three different elections. And how she picked herself up after.
One of the first pieces of advice she gave us was, “Do what’s right, not what’s expedient.” I have many times wanted to take the easy way out and I have at times, actually taken the easier way out, but most of the time I strive to do what’s right for me, what’s right by my family, and what’s right by my community. To have those efforts reinforced, and almost commended, by someone of such high standing and influence, was a very positive, and extremely inspirational experience.

After all of her bad luck, after all of the pain she had been through, she had such an air of hope, understanding, and acceptance. It was truly inspiring. She made it through the difficult experiences in her life and ended up winning congressional office and re-marrying. Congresswoman Speier’s parting advice to us was, “Success is never final, failure is never fatal. Don’t be afraid to try something, don’t settle, and don’t sell yourself short.” I am not one to easily take risks and I like to be comfortable. I am outgoing and loud but that’s my comfort zone. I am terrified of failure. I like to be right and when I’m wrong, I end up defensive and closed off. I work hard to not be that way but it’s a challenge every day. It was reassuring to hear that a single failure won’t be the end and that most success is in not giving up. I loved hearing this from Congresswoman Speier who’s been through so much and succeeded when all the odds were against her. For these two pieces of incredibly valuable advice, I will always be grateful.
-Mara Getz


Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders
BY Swamy

Bernie Sanders

The assistant announced Senator Bernie Sanders’ arrival. The senator with smoky wisps of white hair drifted into the vast wood paneled hearing room. His hair hung above a broad set of shoulders and he moved with a stride born of urgency and purpose.
He sat for a moment, as Emma Fladeboe introduced the group. He immediately stood and interrupted her to ask us about our “unusual” school. As he talked of his impending debate on finance reform on the senate floor, he reminded me of a soldier, or of a general speaking of a coming battle.
I liked what he said about identifying problems and then doing what you can to solve them. It seemed incredibly simple and yet incredibly powerful, coming from the man of such intellect and position.
-BY Swamy


Jack Massion

Today was a day dominated by interviews with elected officials. The last few days we have interviewed individuals working at non-government organizations and non-elected government officials. Today’s interviews were different from the previous days interviews. The main difference was that today we got a more specific description of the process of governance, while yesterday we spent more time on mission and vision with the people we interviewed.
One of the best examples of this was the interview with Senator Bernie Sanders. Senator Sanders was not only a Senator but also a great teacher. One of the first things that Senator Sanders said when he walked in the room was, “I see my role here as someone who fights for people who don’t have a lot.” He then explained how he chooses to represent his constituents. I was pleasantly surprised to find he was more motivated to help the country rather than get re-elected.

Another great moment in the interview was when we asked him about his view on the partisan nature of the current discourse. In response he asked us to think of an issue facing the country. After we listed a few issues he declared, “The main question facing politicians is what should we do?” He said that the media plays up the partisan divide. If the media understood that the main goal and process of politics was to figure out how to solve issues through debate, they might not take such a negative approach. Often times the media amplifies the difference in politics to create a better story. Senator Sanders also admitted that the Senate does have its share of partisan politics. Maybe if we, as citizens, didn’t put so much pressure on the parties to stick to their lines we could minimize this partisan divide.
Overall, I was impressed with his ability to answer our questions with questions of his own, and I was disappointed when he had to leave because he was called to the floor of the Senate. I felt that we were just getting to the real issues.
-Jack Massion


Interview with Congressman Jeff Flake
Brittany Lovato

Congressman Flake

Today we interviewed Congressman Jeff Flake for the first time. I had been looking forward to this interview all day, in part because it was going to be our first interview with a Republican congressperson. I was excited to hear a different perspective.
Toward the beginning of the interview Anneka asked, “We are having a hard time placing you in the political spectrum because on the one hand we read that you are a conservative’s conservative and then we see that you are personally committed to people who are living on the margins. How do we reconcile these apparent polarities?” His short answer was, “I don’t know.” I liked this answer because I often feel the same way about politics. I agree with a few conservative policies and I agree with some liberal policies. His answer reassured me that this is all right. I don’t have to pick one side or the other. The only thing that really matters is that I stick to my morals and beliefs and don’t let my politics be dictated by labels.

-Brittany Lovato


Haley Turner

Our last interview of the day was with Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake. Congressman Flake lived up to the claim made by The Hill, that he rivals Representative Aaron Shock (Il) as the “biggest hunk” in Congress. More importantly, he was friendly, knowledgeable and seemed surprisingly enthusiastic to engage with us.

During the interview with Congressman Flake, Noah asked, “What are your feelings on the partisan nature of the political discourse in the Congress?” The Congressman said that he felt Congress needed more partisanship around certain issues, but that they needed less of what he called “petty partisanship”. For Example, Congressman Flake told us how President Obama recently invited him to play basketball. He said that some of his constituents contacted him before the basketball game and told him that he shouldn’t engage with the President because of his political affiliation. Flake said that this was taking partisanship too far. He said that he believes that partisanship is essential to politics and government, however petty partisanship serves no purpose and makes no advances. I found it refreshing and valuable to learn from and connect with a Congressperson from such a seemingly different place on the political spectrum.

-Haley Turner

Interview with Congressman Jeff Flake

Day Three: Service and Learning

Community Service

Mount Madonna students with Vivian Adams, former school teacher
Lindsey Colton
Chelsea Bess

This morning we split into groups and participated in various community service projects around D.C. Our project was to help out an elderly person with daily chores. We had the great pleasure of meeting Mrs. Vivian Adams. Miss Vivian is a very kind and spirited woman. She had us thoroughly clean her house. We never imagined cleaning could be that much fun and feel so good at the same time. To see the joy we brought to Miss Vivian was truly heartwarming. We did more than just clean her house; we made a friend.
-Lindsey Colton and Chelsea Bess


Lily Connor

When we arrived at Vivian Adams house and she spoke to us about how appreciative she was that we came to help her. Several times she said, “God will bless you all individually and collectively.” During our time with her, she spoke about her relationship with her family. Unfortunately for her, she doesn’t get to see her grandchildren often. It made me think about how much our just being in her house meant to her, and how much happier she would be if she got to be with her grandchildren. We worked really hard sweeping, mopping, and dusting her house. I felt good about what I was doing because I could tell how appreciative she was and that our presence in her home was also a joy to her. She commented on how we came smiling, worked smiling, and left smiling. As I walked out of the house, I heard her say, “I love you all.”
After visiting Ms. Vivian we went to another facility where our coordinator, Portia, introduced us to senior citizens that they take care of. We were introduced to Mr. Guy and Ms. EL who both were interesting people. Ms. El, in her 80’s was larger than life and showed us her “dance moves.” Mr. Guy also in his 80’s explained his service in World War II and all the languages he spoke. I watched Portia hold their hands and have an intimate relationship with them. It was really inspiring and touching, and made me realize the importance of community service.
-Lily Connor


Noah Limbach

We spent the morning working at the Washington Parks and People, an organization that works to restore run-down parks in the D.C. area. We worked in a park in a low-income neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. The park was named after Marvin Gaye because he was from that neighborhood.
We were met by Benham, an Iranian immigrant who fled his country to avoid religious persecution due to his Baha’i faith. He told us about how Marvin Gaye Park had once been used as a garbage dump, and how it had earned the nickname “Needles Park” because of all the people who went there to shoot heroin. Seven years later, Marvin Gaye Park is much improved. It is now a beautiful and open space. Washington Parks and People runs an after school program in the park and is planning a sleep-over this Saturday night in the park for sixty children. They have also started a weekly Farmers Market so that there is fresh produce available to the people in the neighborhood. Before this, individuals had to take two buses to buy produce.
-Noah Limbach


Interview with Betty Hudson
National Geographic Executive Vice President, Communications
Susie Bryan

Betty Hudson

As a little kid, I grew up with National Geographic magazines stacked up in our living room. Sometimes when I was alone, I’d flip through the stunning pictures with an open mouth. So, needless to say, I was excited when we got the opportunity to interview Betty Hudson, the Vice President of Communications at the National Geographic Society.

Our interview went very well. Betty Hudson came across as a kind, clever, and intelligent woman. She created a unique atmosphere in the room. From her comments it was clear that she completely supported National Geographic’s goal which is to inspire people to care about the planet. She also talked about the importance of sticking together and supporting each other. She said that supporting people in general, and caring about things other than us, is extremely important. At one point she said, “With knowing comes caring, and with caring comes action”.
As she talked about the hope she sees spreading across the globe, it became apparent that she is committed to revealing the beauty of the world to every person and to creating more kindness and compassion in everyone’s lives.

-Susie Bryan


Interview with Betty Hudson

BY Swamy

A high ceiling towered over a huge wooden table lined with chairs. Warm light played over treasures tucked into glass cases, and our chairs made barely a sound as we slid into this hall of kings, the Board Room of the National Geographic.
Towards the end of the interview with Betty Hudson I stammered out my impromptu question, “Um, well, is it, um, the viewers responsibility to uh, filter what they watch? Or the like, uh broadcasting companies?” I felt like an idiot, but the question was sound. In response she said that she wished schools taught media literacy.
Media literacy? I didn’t even understand the concept at first. It has always seemed to me that it is our own perception of the world that affects how we view television, but her idea began to make perfect sense to me. If one doesn’t know how to take in news, one is not connected to one’s environment. Betty Hudson’s remarks reminded me that television is a relatively young industry. Perhaps society does not yet know how to fully adapt to such a revolutionary instrument.
-BY Swamy


Emma Petersen

Getting back to the hostel after a long day of running around D.C., I collapsed onto my bed. While resting, I had the opportunity to reflect back on the day. I found our interview with Betty Hudson inspiring. She said, “I never have goals, but I believe if I keep my head up and trust myself I will get where I want.” This hit home because I am constantly trying to make goals for myself. Betty Hudson helped me to see that I just need to trust myself. I will get where I want without forcing it.
-Emma Peterson

Interview with Betty Hudson

Interview with Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley
Special Representative for Global Partnerships
Interview with Ambassador Bagley

Haley Turner

Today, after jaywalking through the streets of D.C., eating in between interviews and sprinting to the metro, we interviewed Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley at the State Department. What struck me most about our interview with Ambassador Bagley was what she said about America and our role in the world. She told us that while she was the Ambassador to Portugal, Secretary of State Madeline Albright used the term “American Exceptionalism”. Ambassador Bagley said that many of the Portuguese she spoke with understood this term could be considered to be a claim of American superiority. However, Ambassador Bagley explained that “American Exceptionalism” refers to the fact that America is unique in many ways. We are known as the “melting pot” of the world because of our diversity, and we can have pride in our capacity for innovation and the many opportunities available here. Ambassador Bagley said that although the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have created many challenges, she believes that our image is improving and that as a nation we have both the capacity and duty to give back to the rest of the world.
-Haley Turner


Max Connor

Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley is a political powerhouse. Her accomplishments include serving as Ambassador for Portugal under the Clinton administration, playing a key role in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign for presidency, working for Senator Ted Kennedy, and currently being the representative for Global Partnerships. The Global Partnership initiative helps form social, economic, and political partnerships around the world.
Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley’s message was about the importance of hard work. It was clear and simple. If you are able to work hard while maintaining compassion and integrity, then people will value and appreciate your efforts. So far, this statement has held true for all of our interviews. Each interviewee has stated with conviction that they would not be where they are today had they not worked hard, struggled to prove themselves, and welcome new and difficult opportunities. Ambassador Bagley as well as Betty Hudson, Alyse Nelson and Layli Miller-Muro have taught me that the key to success is tenacity, accepting new opportunities, and working hard. Ambassador Bagley lived by her advice, and she is personal testimony of the success and effect it can have. We will be able to take the thoughts and ideas Ambassador Bagley shared with us and apply them to our lives.
Max Connor

Interview with Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley

Day Two: Passion and Dedication

Interview with Alyse Nelson
Co-Founder and CEO of Vital Voices

Alyse Nelson
Alyse Nelson
Mari Fox

We could not have picked a better person than Alyse Nelson to start off our interview experience in Washington DC. After hearing about Alyse, I expected someone very different than the elegant, blonde woman who walked through the doors of the Cosmos Club. You could tell right away that she had confidence in herself and in the work she does.
Her words about leadership touched me more than anything else in the interview. Alyse described a leader as a person who seeks power to give power to others, and said that good leaders are the world’s greatest untapped potential. She told us stories of women all over the world who demonstrated this kind of leadership and who had an impact on their communities. These stories made me think about my potential. If women who have absolutely nothing except their hope for a better future can do something empowering and proactive in their community, then I most certainly can too.
-Mari Fox

Emma Fladeboe

I have never in my life heard and seen someone speak with such passion as Alyse Nelson. I watched with awe as she recalled her experiences and spoke of her career and life with such determination. It was easy to see that she truly loves what she does. As she recounted her experiences, you could feel the wonder increasing in the room, causing people to be drawn into what she was saying.
She told a story. It was a story about a shelter for young girls that had been victims of trafficking that she visited in Cambodia. She told how all eighty girls listened as one among them stood up and told her story. She told how they all began to cry. But despite the sadness and cruelty that had plagued much of their lives, she told of the courage and determination they carry with them now. Merely hearing the story secondhand through Alyse’s narrative struck me profoundly. I looked around the room and found expressions that I assumed mirrored my own. The emotions of awe, wonder, and insight were reflected in the countenances of many of the girls in my class. We are all girls, so privileged and lucky to lead the lives we have. We were now struck by the profundity of what we were hearing about what is happening to women around the world. Given Alyse’s concrete recollections, we began to realize on a personal level the true impact of these stories. When each of us had the opportunity to articulate what had caught our attention us during the interview, our responses reflected many of these sentiments. Tears filled the eyes of girls around the room, and I was surprised to find even my own vision become blurry.

It takes a certain level of power and voice to have such an immediate effect on a group of girls. Alyse both emphasized and embodied these two qualities. I already feel convinced of the importance of my own role and voice on a broader scale. As I went to write a note on Alyse’s closing remarks, my hand was unsteady as I wrote, experiencing a moment of wonder I had not expected.
-Emma Fladeboe


Dani Quinn

We just got back from our interview with Alyse Nelson. It was one of the most inspiring and touching experiences of my life. She was an amazing woman who has seen and experienced so much in her life. She is the Co-Founder and CEO of Vital Voices, an organization that empowers women. She said many things that struck me.
She touched on many different things, but she always seemed to come back to leadership. She said, “Leaders are the greatest untapped potential of the world, you just have to find and unleash them.” I felt that this quote was empowering and resonated with me.
She talked a lot about leadership. She said that leadership wasn’t just about power. She said that there are three aspects of leadership: (1) There is no one path to leadership, (2) True leaders stand apart, not alone, and (3) All leaders have mentors, and some have many. The part about leaders standing apart and not alone was amazing. I thought, “Wow. That is one of the greatest quotes I have ever heard.”
Her parting advice was, “Be a sponge, take it all in… Keep a notebook for everything… Don’t worry about finding your path and follow your passion.”
-Dani Quinn

Mount Madonna School students interview Alyse Nelson.

Interview with Layli Miller-Muro
Founder and President of Tahirih Justice Center
Layli Miller-Muro

When my sister came home from her Washington D.C. trip two years ago, she immediately told me about Layli Miller-Muro. She spoke of the Tahirih Justice Center and the women that the center helped. This made me want to meet her and learn more about the work she was doing. I read many stories of Tahirih’s clients and I could not understand how any human being could treat another with such brutality. I was inspired by the work Tahirih was doing and from that moment on I knew that wanted to help people who needed it.

Soma Sharan

Today I was excited to finally meet the person who had inspired me to get involved in community service. When Lily asked, “How do you manage to deal with all of the situations of hardship and abuse without becoming emotionally drained or desensitized?” Layli Miller-Muro gave an inspiring answer. She said that she does not become numb or emotionally drained because she finds hope in her work. In reference to her work she said, “We are like raindrops in a puddle and that puddle becomes the ocean that is going to change the world.” This statement helped me to understand that it’s the small things that count.

-Soma Sharan


James Clifton

Our second interview was with Layli Miller-Muro, the founder of the Tahirih Justice Center. The Tahirih Justice Center’s mission is to protect immigrant women and girls fleeing gender-based violence. I thought the interview went well. I found it interesting to hear Layli Miller-Muro’s perspective since her work is similar to Alyse Nelson’s work.
One thing that I found interesting in both interviews was the idea of the necessity of fear and the danger of comfort. Both Alyse and Layli said that having fears and being out of your comfort zone is good because it challenges you to take risks. Layli Miller-Muro was very strong in her thoughts about failure. She said, “FAIL! You learn from failing, fail over and over again.” Both interviews were surprising and I look forward to our interview tomorrow with Betty Hudson.
-James Clifton


Jack Massion


Layli Miller-Muro said, “I think there is something horribly wrong in a comfortable world”. I believe that is a quintessential part of this trip. SN always tells us, “This trip is not about your comfort.” Waking up at 6:00 is definitely not comfortable.
The interviews we get to have here in Washington D.C. are worth losing a little comfort over. We have been given a chance to interview some very powerful people and I am grateful for that. That is why I felt incredibly proud and honored when Layli Miller-Muro, after a scheduling mishap, went out of her way to come to see us. The idea that our time was just as important as hers bolstered my confidence

I now want to put the idea of carpe diem into action. We have over the years attracted the focus of a lot of powerful people in D.C. I feel it is my duty to use this focus to my benefit.
-Jack Massion


Michaela Schuessler

When Layli Miller-Muro walked into the room I didn’t know what to expect. She was both similar and different from Alyse Nelson. It felt like she opened up to us and I appreciated that. I liked it when she said, “If you haven’t failed before, go fail.” It was funny to hear that because I never thought I would hear that from someone so successful.
-Michaela Schuessler

Soma gives Distinguished Faculty Award to Layli Miller-Muro