An overview video of the entire Washington, D.C. 2014 Interview Tour trip. This was shown at the students’ presentation to the community upon return to California.
Our trip to Washington D.C. was an experience that I will never forget. The people we met, the places we saw, and the moments we shared, opened my eyes to how I view our government, our country, and perhaps even myself. I learned that there is much more than meets the eye, that the power generated through passion can be stronger than any other force, and that the ability to create change lies in each of our hands; it only takes the right kind of determination and inspiration to know how to use it.
After eleven days of preparation, traveling, interviewing, and reflecting, I must say that the D.C. experience has been more than worthwhile for me. Not only because of the many instances when wisdom was shared with us, but also for the moments in between; lounging on the couches in the hallway after helping the group, and playing croquet in the Blue Ridge Mountains. All of these bonding experiences with my peers, encouraged growth within me. Working, relaxing, and traveling with my friends opened a path to me that I have wanted to traverse for quite some time. The only real issue in the traversing of this path was doubt standing in my way, always telling me, “It’s too dangerous. You might fall and hurt yourself. Or die. Yeah you’re probably going to die.” While this issue still isn’t entirely resolved, I do still have fragments of that doubt floating around making a mess of things, I have made some important first steps towards lessening that voice.
I think it was the late nights, the copious amounts of tea, the heavy discussions that occurred after we had shut down our computers, and the feeling of pure intrigue and satisfaction when a question that we had spent hours poring over, and tweaking the words so they were just right, was understood perfectly. I couldn’t get enough. Everyday held a renewed sense of passion and inspiration. I did not leave a single interview without a goofy grin plastered on my face, as I realized once again that I had met one of the most incredible people in the world. And just when my eyes would start to droop another smiling face would walk into the room, ready to share droplets of wisdom with us.
Over these eleven days, I was introduced to twenty-seven fantastic role models. Despite having wildly different opinions than several of them, there is no question that all of these people were pursuing their goals in life. Given so many opportunities to learn, it was easy to make connections and identify the common building blocks of success that all of these people shared. I was able to find similarities in their paths to success, and see the motivation and dedication it took to reach goals.
Today is the “Return Assembly” at Mount Madonna School for the Washington, D.C. experience. Here, our students will talk about what they learned on this recent journey. The “Return” is an essential part of each transformational journey. My dear friend, Sobonfu Somé, author and indigenous wisdom carrier once told me that it is the job of the village to welcome you back from an initiatory experience. This means that to truly complete the journey, we each need to be seen and heard in our new awareness, and we need to bring the gifts of what we have learned in that experience back to our community to be shared. She admonishes that not being seen at this stage creates isolation, even depression, and these important gifts can be lost if not acknowledged.
The “Call,” the “Journey” and the “Return” are the stages of the classical hero’s journey. The “Call” stage, is when we are invited to adventure. It is generally the point when the hero says “no” at least three times. Our “no” has a lot of information in it if we take the time to reflect. When I ask the students about the refusing the “Call” they understand it right away. They say, “It might not be worth it”, “I might fail”, “I might not be good enough”, “I am comfortable where I am”, “it is too much work”, and my favorite, “If I succeed then it will be expected of me in future.” The “Call” stage also contains the work of preparation, which can be demanding. Where do we find the energy to make an effort when we are unsure of the benefits?
Congressman Jared Huffman drew me in right off the bat. The fact that he played for the United States Men’s National Volleyball Team, winning All American three years in a row and being a setter (my position) definitely helped in getting me interested in Congressman Huffman.
One of the questions we asked him during the interview was, “I read you that you had an outstanding career as a professional volleyball player. In your time playing on a national sports team, what values did you take away that you are able apply to your career as a politician?” I found his answer to be highly encouraging, and it gave me some ideas about possible career choices in my future. I have never really been clear on what I want to be, although I have had a bunch of ideas about jobs that I thought would fit me well. When he replied that being able to work as a team translates into almost every career path, my confidence was boosted; I realized that I could excel in a job where teamwork was required. He also said that as a setter you really have to focus on the moral of the team. You need to keep a level head, while at the same time being enthusiastic. This really rang true for me because as a setter you have to stay calm because you are making all the decisions, but you also have to be energetic to help keep up a positive team attitude. I had already thought that being a firefighter would be a good job choice; his answer to this question solidified my decision.
We arrived almost an hour early for our interview with Congressman Huffman, which gave us plenty of time to sharpen our questions and practice for our final interview. The room was filled with emotions—anticipation, excitement, exhaustion, and a bit of sadness at the knowledge of this being our last day in Washington D.C. This fed the energy of the group, and when Congressman Huffman arrived everyone was alert and ready.
Like many people we met this trip, Congressman Huffman is humble despite his many accomplishments. From being an All-American on the USA men’s national volleyball team, to playing a key part in the implementation of Title 9 as a lawyer, Congressman Huffman has an impressive history in different leadership roles. This has translated perfectly into his new position in Congress. One aspect of Congressman Huffman that impressed me was his clarity and control of language. There were no pauses, no filler words or midsentence changes in thought; Congressman Huffman spoke as though he had been thinking up his answers to our questions for months ahead of time.
Our hour with Congressman Huffman went quickly. It felt like only ten minutes had gone by when Ward called for the final question which, following Mount Madonna tradition, was to ask the interviewee for advice. For the first time in the whole interview, Congressman Huffman paused briefly before speaking. He said to us, “You’re going to be leaders. Think about those who are less fortunate, and make a difference.” As we walked down the Capitol steps for the final time, I thought about Congressman Huffman’s words. Throughout this trip we have been privileged to meet with so many incredible people, all of whom are leaders in their own right. Being a leader can mean holding a position like Congressman or Senator, but sometimes the leaders that the world needs the most are the ones who don’t have titles, the ones who are simply trying to bring change and do good for their communities. As we headed back to the hostel for the last time, I made a silent pledge to myself to fulfill Congressman Huffman’s words. I will be a leader in my own life, and somehow, someway, big or small, I am going to make a difference.
When Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth wheeled into the room, a huge smile on her face, I got that surreal feeling one sometimes gets when meeting a celebrity, that makes it hard to believe it’s really happening. When we first found out we would get to interview her and began our research, her group immediately became one of the most popular groups to join. Within a few days we had more questions for Congresswoman Duckworth than almost anyone else.
Congresswoman Duckworth was one of the first Army women to fly combat missions. She was deployed to Iraq in 2004, as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot for the Illinois Army National Guard. During a mission an RPG hit her helicopter. She lost both of her legs and partial use of her right arm, but miraculously made it out alive, even managing to help land the Blackhawk before losing consciousness. She spent the following year recovering at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Since then, among many other things, she has been a passionate advocate for better care for veterans.
One of my favorite quotes reads, “Anyone can give up. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.” To me, Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth embodies this strength. She is a true example of someone who went through something traumatic and life altering. She could have come out of it a victim, feeling sorry for herself, and having everyone else feel sorry for her, never questioning it for a moment. But instead she came out strong, courageous and determined to make her second chance at life really mean something. “I’m not letting some guy who got lucky one day in Baghdad decide my future,” she said in an interview during her time at Walter Reed. “If I stop flying it’s going to be because I want to stop flying, not because somebody decided for me with an RPG.”
During our short time with her, this fiery determination showed. She talked about her story, the strength she had taken away from it, and how it had shifted her perspective of life, death and fear. “I never wanted to risk failure until I got hurt and survived,” she told us. “Then I realized there was nothing left to be afraid of.” She also talked to us about her experience in politics and in the Army as a woman. The main point I took away on this topic was that yes, there is still discrimination, and yes it is hard to face sometimes, but that really the answer is that women need to stand up to it and point it out when it happens. She told us that both evidence and personal experience have shown that, overwhelmingly, when a woman is discriminated against and lets it slide the crowd will side against her. However, if she calls it out right away for what it is, they will side with her. This is precisely what Congresswoman Duckworth has done.
I really admire Congresswoman Duckworth, and am honored to have gotten to speak with her, even for a short amount of time. Her story and her strength have helped me put my life into perspective, and see the value in the challenges that come with it. “You have to temper steel to make it stronger,” she told us. I believe she will be a source of inspiration for me to grow stronger, rather than weaker, as I face the tempering that life is sure to provide me.
The moment Congressman Sam Farr, the representative of the 17th district of California, walked in the room, I was immediately reminded of his jovial nature. I had loved his personality when he came to Mount Madonna School in September. This visit I was exhausted and bleary eyed. There was no denying it. I scribbled down the quotes that struck me, but sitting here now, I realize that I did not truly understand them until now. As I attempt to decipher my chicken scratch, I continue to uncover the insightful words that seem to come so naturally to Congressman Farr.
When speaking on preserving natural resources Congressman Farr said, “How do you put value on things that are feel-good, things that are happy, things that are joyous?” It’s a good question. There is a price on lumber but the value of stepping into a redwood circle and looking up at the tremendous might of the trees that surround you, and realizing how insignificant you are compared to the might of these giants, cannot be forced into a physical number. Congressman Farr works every day to attempt to communicate these feelings in order to preserve the natural world for generations to come.
“I think passion is so dominant an emotion that it really can sustain you.” As he said these words, I could see the passion glowing behind his eyes, and I realized why so many people love him. Because he loves them back, and because he has a passion for his job.
Today we interviewed Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez from California. It being our sixth consecutive interview of the day, we were all fairly tired by the time Congresswoman Sanchez walked into the room. However, the energy she brought with her soon reinvigorated us. A couple Mount Madonna School groups had met with Sanchez in the past, so we had heard a lot of positive things about her. We were excited to meet her ourselves. We also felt pressure to ask good questions to prove that we were as competent, if not more so, than any classes she had previously met.
Since a congressional vote was looming, we were forced to make the interview shorter than we had previously anticipated. So, we picked out the best questions from our list. Having a clear idea of who would be asking questions, we stood prepared as Loretta Sanchez entered the room, and sat at the far end of a long table. I was immediately impressed by her confidence, and I felt all of my butterflies disperse just by being around her joyful personality.
The interview progressed well. Congresswoman Sanchez answered all of our questions thoughtfully and insightfully. She started out by saying that “goodness is an individual trait,” and that she always tries to do at least a single thoughtful thing a day so she has something to feel pleased about. She then said that when one person’s rights are degraded, so are the rights of everyone. She said that we are truly, and deeply, affected by the emotions of those around us. She said that in order to get things right you often have to fail many times, yet if you truly put your all into an attempt, it can never be seen as a failure. Lastly she told us that in order to get something done which matters, you need to fight for it from the inside, but you require the support from those outside the issue to give you confidence.
Unfortunately the interview ended too quickly because of time constraints. Yet, despite the interview’s short length, I felt assured that our group successfully defended the reputation of our school and our Values program, and I was personally impacted by what she had to say.
In our interview with Congressman George Miller, he said, “Being liberal means being open to new evidence.” This statement struck me because, despite growing up in the very liberal town of Santa Cruz, I had never considered the fundamental values of liberalism. I had only ever focused on the explicit meanings, such as caring about the environment and voting democratic. Congressman Miller’s statement, that being liberal means being open to new evidence, rang true for me.
As we collect new information about the world around us it is vital to continue to process it, and learn from it. In our interview with Ray Suarez, he said that often fact trails opinion. The line between fact and opinion is often confused, which creates an environment where the introduction of new information is not given the attention it deserves. Being open to new evidence and having the ability to admit you were wrong and then change your views accordingly, is an important quality that everyone can benefit from, despite party line. This speeds up the rate in which things can change for the better, and cuts the risk of looking foolish, significantly.
I hope to incorporate Congressman Miller’s statement into my daily life. It is easy to get caught up in opinions and make snap judgments, but until I possess all of the information available to me, my opinion is incomplete.
Today we had the adventurous opportunity to meet and interview Congressman Don Young, the most senior republican representative in the House and the only representative from Alaska. Going in to the interview, we heard various opinions about him and what he is all about. Based on the controversial nature of some aspects of his career, we had a fairly uniform opinion about how he would be and what he might say. We left the interview with a very different impression.
I can’t say we will all support his future campaigns, but we did get a unique insight into the true values and feelings of Don Young, something most people don’t get to see. It became apparent to me, amidst the outrageously entertaining stories about his adventures in life, and in government, that he clearly operates on a set of deep principles that he cares about. They were simple and logical in their raw form. He values fairness and equal opportunity, as well as reason and practicality. It was interesting to see how values and principles, that I support, can be used to foster complex opinions that I never even considered.
Many of the things Congressman Young said made more sense, on a fundamental level, than I would have expected. All in all, the interview was a wonderful surprise. We went in with some fairly strong preconceptions, and left saying, “Wow, so what if I don’t agree with this guy politically, he’s so cool!!!!” I think above all, it was the most shining example of how policy does not define the person behind it, and that you can’t judge a book by its cover, or even the summary on the back.