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.
Values in World Thought
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.
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.
After being home now for about three days, thinking back, I realize what I had done and the significance of the experience that I have just had. For a while before the trip I remember myself wishing I could take this trip when I was older, thinking I would get more meaning out of it. But being back I can say that there would never have been a better time to go. One thing I heard, in our interview with Congressman Barney Frank, which I’m not sure if I actually heard or if I have developed this thought over the past few days was his answer in response to our “Progression without a positive goal question.” I remember him saying that this is untrue. This immediately caught my attention because I disagreed with him, but as I listened to his answer, my disagreement merely turned into another view.
His answer was that there is no one yellow brick road to success, no one route of prosperity. He said just live and be happy. What I got out of this was that your life’s meaning is too great to comprehend, and to just live your life in the best way is all your society and you need to progress.
One thing that surprised me about the people we met was how human all of these people really were. Perhaps it is just me, but I feel like younger people seem more distant from politics being that they are not yet highly involved with them. Seeing how open our nations leaders really were made me feel like a greater part of out country, and more involved with the issues we face.
As I look back on our experience in DC, many moments stand out for me. Some moments were moving, some were sad, and some were pivotal. Despite all of those moments, one truly stood above all the others: our interview with Betty Hudson. She said that she didn’t know where she was going in life, but she knew if she worked hard, kept a good head on her shoulders, and kept an open mind, that she would come to an intersection and then choose a road from there. This allowed me to relax about my future because the biggest thing I am worried about is “not knowing where I am going,” and being afraid to make a mistake. If someone of her stature can say that and end up where she is today, then I truly believe her advice can be followed. It is something I will carry with me as I begin to apply to college and declare a major.
My perceptions of politicians changed greatly during this trip. It’s easy to categorize them as special and demand of them everything. From the trip I learned that politicians are just regular people, who try very hard and have very stressful jobs. I also realized how misleading the news and media in general can be. Often it seems like there is a constant partisan conflict in government but for the most part politicians are all striving for the greater good in one way or another.
The human connection is essential to life. This is the most important lesson I have learned on this journey. I realized this through our community service day with Christian Homes and Families. On this day I was able to meet Ms. Vivian, a retired teacher, and Ms L and Mr. Guy who was over 90 who were a part of the project.
We cleaned Ms. Vivian’s house for her. I didn’t realize how much of an impact this small act could have. Helping her seemed like a very natural thing to me but to her it was the biggest gesture we could have made. She was touched by our willingness to come all the way from California and take time out of our day to help her. At this point in the journey, I came to understand that although it is important to talk to successful government and non-governmental figures, it is also essential that we communicate with everyday people. People who are just like us and have immense knowledge to share. All I have to do is be open to talk with them and listen to them. When I drop my barriers of judgment and am willing to engage in different situations, especially those that are not comfortable, I often learn something that makes me more aware of the world around me.
My advice to people going on this trip would be to be curious and keep engaged. I really felt a difference when our group chose to do this. We heard from a lot of the people we interviewed to not be afraid to fail. By staying curious you have the potential to fail and be let down by an interview but I found that by being curious you can also push a borderline interview to be great. If you have detailed research and well thought out questions your curiosity will be rewarded.
At the beginning of the trip I felt skeptical about how the trip would turn out but by the end of the trip I understood the enormity of the experience we had just had. I think it is hard to put into words what exactly we experienced while in Washington DC. Truthfully I think it is more important that we understand what happened and how special it was for us than to explain it to anybody else. I hope that the next group of students that go can understand and take advantage of the amazing opportunity that they are being given. We learned that this trip is based on legacy and reputation, and every group that goes either builds up or erodes our relationships in Washington DC by the quality of their work.
One of the main themes of the trip was giving back. This was present in many of our interviews, and all of the people we interviewed had made a living by giving back. Alyse Nelson helps women all over the world by using her power to give women a voice in countries where women still don’t have their own voice.
Betty Hudson made a point about National Geographic’s mission. She said, “knowing creates caring and caring creates action.” I could see her passion as she said this to our class. She is a person who has traveled the world and seen many different people and cultures and nature. This is why I believe she is working at National Geographic, to be able to spread knowledge of the world to the public, so that someone will pick up their magazine and learn about one part of the world. This might then lead to a caring, which could lead to action. The National Geographic is changing people’s lives everyday without directly touching them.
They have created a very powerful tool that is influencing people everyday to do good for the world.
I definitely learned from this trip more than I thought I would. My advice to future groups would be to prepare and know that you will learn the most you have ever learned in ten days during this trip. I wish that I had put more effort into this trip knowing how much I would get out of it.
I was surprised by how in touch with the government and my country I felt during the trip. It was the first time I really felt proud to be an American and a part of this system. Living in California my whole life, I have always been about as far away from Washington D.C. as you can get. Government never felt tangible or like I could be apart of it. It was always something I just heard about but never felt connected to. While in D.C it became real to me. The people were genuine and their main objective was to do what they felt was best for this country. I was struck by the fact that they all really wanted us to get involved. They all told us how important it is to be active in our society.
Before DC I thought that democrats and republicans basically hated each other. I thought that they couldn’t get along in any aspect of life, not just politics. But the day we interviewed Congresswoman Jackie Speier and Congressman Jeff Flake, that changed.
The two politicians are from opposite political parties but they had some distinctive and inspiring similarities. Despite their differences they respected the other party. They spoke with grace and deference about their opponents and the advice they gave us was the same.
They wanted us to follow our passion, be open to all opportunities, and not be afraid of failing. Ultimately they wanted us to find what we loved doing and pursue it. Neither democrat nor republican tried to change our views, convince us of theirs, they just gave us advice on how to live and lead a fulfilling and happy life.
Leonard McCarthy was the best teacher I have ever had. In fact he did exactly what we were supposed to do, only better. That is, he asked us meaningful questions that were relevant in his life; questions that were meant to inspire thought and required a personalized answer. Mr. McCarthy seemingly did this on the fly. He did more than just ask us questions, he persisted in his line of questioning if he found a flaw in our logic and he made us reconsider things.
The advice I would give to the next group is to go with the flow. Rather than just focusing on the person, or the voice, focus on how you feel when that person talks. You will learn a lot about how your world is colored if you do. I want others to know that the learning you experience on this journey isn’t from the people you interview it is from within yourself.
I went into the Congresswoman Jackie Speier interview full of expectations and excitement but I soon learned that things rarely turn out how you expect.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier had virtually no time to speak with us so after she quickly answered our time limited questions she flew out of the room as fast as she had come in. I was left with mixed feelings. I had prepared very thoroughly for this interview so my first reaction was to be upset. The questions I had really cared about did not get asked and the interview was much shorter than I would have wanted.
After bumming about the “failed” interview I started to think back on what she had said. I realized that everything she said was meaningful and valid for me. If I had not been disappointed because the interview was different than I had planned, I’m sure I would have gotten more out of it. This interview was a pivotal turning point in the trip for me. It taught me to hold back on my expectations because you never know what you may miss as a result.
This trip didn’t change me so much because of what the people said, but rather because of what I learned about myself. I learned to be open minded and positive. I also discovered that I am able to endure more than I thought. If I were to give advice to the people going in the next group, it would be to keep up with the group and as Alyse Nelson told us, “Be a sponge.” This quote from our first interview helped me throughout the entire trip. You may want to give up when you are tired and our teacher is sprinting down the street in 90-degree weather. Just try to keep up and tell yourself, you only have this experience once! I am glad I went on this trip because I feel privileged to be able to have experienced what I did. Even though it was a very long, tiring trip, I am glad I went and made the most of it!
What I found most surprising about our trip is that despite the diversity in the professions, interests and experiences of each of the individuals we interviewed, they all offered very similar advice. They said to be passionate, to give back to the community and to society, to love what you do, to know what you’re good at, to work hard and persevere, to meet people and build relationships, to be interested and engaged, to help people, to pay attention to details and the little things and every person, to be well-rounded and to look at all different perspectives, even those you don’t agree with, and to follow your own path with its individual opportunities.
It was really interesting to see the connection between the person’s advice and their life experiences and the ideals and principles they expressed throughout the interview. In many of the interviews, a very clear and precise correlation could be made. John Lewis led a life of political activism and his piece of advice was, “If you see something that it is not fair or right, do something about it, and find a way to make life better for all humankind.”
After meeting with various politicians, I came to the realization that they are just as human and normal as you or I. The “issues” they struggle with in their average day are not as different from our own as young Americans. Each and every day they face, adversity, anger, disagreement, and conflict and each difficulty can be connected to a dilemma in our own lives. Essentially they use their own set of values as a guide through their particularly difficult paths. There are no secret political formulas or solutions that they use to solve their problems. Every solution they come up with relates to their core set of values.
At first it was very intimidating to me to be in the presence of individuals who make decisions about the world I live in. Sometimes it is easy to forget that everyone is human and that even Congressmen have families and their own life stories. Hearing some of these stories helped me respect them as individuals. This act can be hard to practice at times. By acknowledging a person for her honesty and positive spirit, you acknowledge her gifts and that can help transform a person. Being recognized for hard work and compassion encourages a person to continue being that way. Compliments lift ones spirit but recognizing and complimenting someone’s values and dedication helps the world to be a better place.