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.
Being a part of this D.C. trip was an extreme privilege. We got to better understand the complicated inner-workings of the government by being directly in the middle of it, and interviewing congressmen, senators, NGO leaders and other important figures. Being behind the camera during these interviews gave me a completely different perspective. During our early interviews I found it almost impossible to film and pay attention to the interviewee. However, as the trip progressed I got better and better, until I could film and completely pay attention to the questions being asked and the answers being given by these highly intelligent, well spoken people. Filming the interviews almost made me feel like I wasn’t a part of the actual interviews, instead I had a bird’s eye view. This was actually beneficial. I got to see the big picture.
Out of the many people that we interviewed there were a few people who really had an impact on me. One was Susannah Welford. Her interview started the conversation about failure and the judgment we often fear will come from admitting our mistakes. This led to many more questions in later interviews about the subject. I thought this topic was interesting because I often have trouble admitting my failures because of the judgment that I fear from my parents and teachers. What I learned from this trip is that often admitting your failures will give less push back than letting them be revealed. Susannah Welford is one of the many leaders that I now look up to. She is the kind of person that I want to become.
It seemed as though wherever we went, whether it be Vital Voices, or USAID, everyone gave similar advice. “Follow your passions, and don’t let anyone keep you down.” As a cliche, I had previously regarded this statement as false or simplified. I did not believe that anyone could truly be happy with what they did with their lives. This notion was disproved spectacularly. Seeing women like Layli Miller-Muro and Alyse Nelson carrying out deeds of great honorability and trust, imbued me with a new passion to do what I love for the benefit of everyone around me, and to make a positive contribution to my community.
Through our interviews with people working both in and out of the government, I saw how much progress is being made in D.C. Every single person we met, from congressmen, to journalists, to government employees, expressed passion and dedication to whatever position they served. It made me realize that, while there is still a lot to be done, for everything that is wrong with our country, there is someone who is working incredibly hard and creating positive change. Also, interviewing so many powerful women, such as Susannah Wellford, Layli Miller-Muro, and Alyse Nelson, made me realize that it is up to our generation of young women, to be the change we want to see. Hearing them talk about their own journeys and experiences truly inspired me to pursue my dreams.
We were exposed to a variety of very inspirational people who had an assortment of different titles and jobs. Although I took away a new piece of advice and insight from every single person we interviewed, I also noticed a lot of reoccurring themes. Hearing similar words of wisdom and personal experience from a diverse group of people, was reassuring and reiterated the relevance of what we were being advised to do. The majority of the people we interviewed shared the significance of finding something you are passionate about and pursuing that passion, instead of doing a job just for the money or title. Another piece of advice commonly discussed was the ability to take risks and not to be afraid of failure. This was a very relevant piece of advice for me personally because I tend to get caught up in the idea of perfection, when in reality failure is a key puzzle piece to producing growth.
Another theme that came up regularly was confidence. Throughout my life, I have always thought about what cultivates confidence in people, and where it comes from. I think confidence comes from within, but your environment supports its growth. I noticed that there was a connection between the people that were passionate about what they did and the level of confidence they had. Passion cultivates confidence. When you are doing what you love to do and believe you are making a difference even in the smallest way, you are confident about what you do.
I think that the idea of soft power is something that needs to be talked about more. Diplomacy is always a better option than violence, however, brute force is often used by countries that have the power to get what they want, and they are willing to use it at the expense of the other party’s domestic rights. The Tibetan people use diplomacy and advocate the use of soft power, partially because they have no military strength by which to defend themselves. Other countries that are militarily superior need to realize that bullying is not the only way to get things done.
This trip has shown me the importance of participating in your country’s democracy. If I don’t vote then the people who make the decisions I want to see made don’t get elected, and I become an unrepresented citizen. This also relates to underrepresented groups such as women. At first I didn’t really see an issue with the lack of women in government, but as time passed it started to sink in. I realized that the elected officials in this country should proportionally represents its citizens, and that is just not the case. Most all of the elected officials come from the same demographic, and they tend to serve the interests of people who are similar to them. This makes it difficult to successfully keep the whole country’s best interests in mind.
I really enjoyed this trip and all it had to offer. The interviews were terrific. I can’t think of a single one which wasn’t worth our time or effort. It was very interesting to be able to interview so many individuals and ask them all questions on the topic of the promotion of women and gender equality. It was fascinating to see the similar and occasionally opposing views the different women had about the issue and the different ways they were fighting for women’s rights.
Ever since we got back from D.C., everybody has been asking me what the high-light of the trip was. I know one of the most memorable moments was seeing
President Obama and his wife walk off of the helicopter. That was a definite case of being at the right place at the right time. We were scheduled to interview Nick Sinai, but he was forced to cancel at the last minute. Luckily we were able to interview three of his associates. We all learned so much from these women. They seemed very excited to speak with us. We were had a blast, and because of that, our interview went for half an hour later than scheduled. Then, just as we were getting ready to go, President Obama’s helicopter landed. Ward always talks about the importance of being open to different things, and taking what you get. In this case being open led us seeing the President of the United States.
One theme that really stuck with me was the idea of following your passions. This is not a new concept for me. I grew up influenced by this value, but the fact that these amazing people also believed in it showed me that if you follow your passions you can still make grand changes in the world and also be a good person. When you like what you do, you will work harder and changes will come faster and most likely easier. I could tell that everyone we spoke with had followed their passion in some sense. To me, this proves that it actually works.
Melanne Verveer reminded me of the immense opportunity I have been given, and that I should use it to my advantage and make positive change in the world. Mary Kay Henry said, “Be willing to say the unimaginable.” That taught me to always express ideas, whether I think they will be accepted or not. Susannah Welford taught me that the greatest rewards come when you go outside of your comfort zone. Admiral Rochon taught me to never turn down a challenge. Layli Miller-Muro taught me to care more about people’s actions than their words. Ray Suarez reminded me that, “…people are smart, people are complex.” Senator Jeff Flake and Tim Ryan taught me that sometimes you just need to go somewhere on your own and think. There is nothing wrong with having personal time to reflect. Alyse Nelson and Vivian Graubard taught me that opportunities come and go, the benefits come from catching as many as possible. Eileen O’Connor and Susan Molinari taught me not to fear failure or change. Susan Markham taught me not to regret trying something, to treat everything as a learning experience. The only thing worse than regretting trying something is regretting not trying something.
Tenzin Tethong taught me to live with humility, compassion, and honesty. Daniel Tangherlini proved to me that more things are accomplished in a group effort. Stephenie Foster said, “Sometimes we just live our lives and don’t question anything.” That doesn’t mean I was inspired to question everything, rather it inspired me not to blindly accept facts. Harden Lang taught me that feminism could be manly too. Sam Farr said, “Try lots of stuff, not stuff that compromises your life…yeah, go try stuff. Run away!” This quote reminded me that while time still exists, I should be doing the things I want to do with it. Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth taught me that overcoming adversity is more than possible. Congressman Don Young taught me to be myself. Congressman George Miller taught me that being open to something doesn’t necessarily mean you have to agree with it. Loretta Sanchez reminded me of how much confidence matters in life and that there aren’t any good reasons not to be confident.
At the Beijing conference in 1997, Hilary Clinton said, “Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.” This famous statement became an inspiration and influence for many of our interviewees, such as Melanne Verveer and Alyse Nelson. Although I always considered the idea of women’s rights being synonymous with human rights to be an obvious fact growing up, I hadn’t always thought of “women’s issues” to be issues for everyone. In many interviews, the theme of the over-arching beneficial effects of full and equal participation in government and business were discussed; statistics show that in countries with higher percentage of women participation, the quality of water, infrastructure, education, and other vital resources to a society, were significantly better. Learning this made me realize how vital feminism and equality are to society, for society’s sake, not just for women’s sake; feminism is not strictly for feminine gain, it is for the benefit of everyone.
Susan Molinari told us, “Moderation in everything, including moderation.” She told us to live our lives how we wanted instead of how society wants us to. My mother has always told me a similar thing, live life in a balance. It really says to accept all things in moderation, to be open to new things, yet to know your own limits and to realize that after bad often comes good. Bittersweet is not a terrible thing, it is merely a loading zone for whatever comes next. Before I thought that politics was too far away, too frustrating, and full of too much bickering to get anything done. Now it’s not so far away. All in all, this entire trip broadened my view of the political and ethical scheme of Washington D.C. I am glad to see that people actually do good in the world.
Washington D.C. seems so far away from California that we often forget that it is a place, and not just the White House the Capitol building, and the Lincoln Memorial. It is a piece of America with people just like us who are trying to make a difference in the best way that they know how. Not everyone wants to be in congress or even in government for that matter, but what the people in D.C. showed me is that you don’t need to have a plan to make a difference. We all have different aspirations and ideas of how we want to make a difference in this world, but ultimately it all comes down to knowing what we want; what we love, and running with it.
Each person we interviewed was so wise and was not afraid to be wrong or to fail. They know that you will always learn from your mistakes, and that’s where true wisdom comes from. In my life I have seen that if I know the mistakes I’ve made are bad, that owning up to them, and admitting that I was wrong proves to be the best way to make right the wrongs. I know that failing can be hard at times, but if I look at all the opportunities my failures have given me to learn, I can see that I have become a better and wiser person through the hard times that I have faced. Honestly, I don’t think I would ever go back to change them because those little mishaps each help define me as a person and shape me into someone better.
Something that stood out to me was the openness that the people we spoke to had. They truly wanted to answer our questions to the fullest extent, and enjoyed speaking to a group of high-schoolers from California. Whether they spoke with us for 15 minutes or over an hour, they were fully invested during the time they were with us and made sure we knew that.
Reflecting after the trip, I realize how rare our experience was. First, going to DC is rare, interviewing people is very rare, interviewing the people we interviewed is extremely rare, and having the whole experience along with a group of my closest friends is almost impossible. I am so glad that I was able to have such an amazing experience and I will never forget it.
Alyse Neslon said, “A leader is someone who wants to step forward, and take bolds risks because they want change.” This was one of the main themes evident on our trip to D.C.; the role of leadership and the importance of taking bold risks, to bring about change. My preconceptions of the government and D.C. was that it was corrupt, not functioning, and had no dedication to the people of the USA. Those beliefs were partially structured by my lack of knowledge about politics, and what I read in the news. I demonized a part of society because I didn’t quite understand what was occurring everyday. After the trip, I know I was wrong and am more than willing to say that there are many dedicated, passionate individuals in Washington D.C. doing there job.
Is inspiration the right word for the “I want to be like that guy” feeling? I think I overuse the word inspiration when I talk about these trips, but if that’s what you call it, than Dan Tangherlini inspired me. So did Congressman George Miller. For that matter, so did Hardin Lang. They all gave me that feeling in different ways, though. Mr. Tangherlini left me feeling like if I could be anywhere near as humble and cooperative as that guy, I could succeed anywhere. I could do anything. Congressman Miller had a dedication for service that I want to emulate. I feel like I’ve already talked about it endlessly, but if I could find that drive to help other people to the extent that he does, goodness knows what I could get done. And if I did it with the integrity and moral groundedness that Hardin Lang has, I’d probably be able to save the world.
A recurring theme in most of the interviews was the advice to follow what you love to do. We were told, “Do what makes your heart sing.” “Follow your dreams.” “Go with your gut. ” “Trust your instincts.” The message became clearer the more we heard it . It reminded me that I should never give up on my dreams because we only live once and we have to take every opportunity that we are given.
In conclusion, the D.C trip was enjoyable and I learned a lot in my time on the other side of the country. The trip gave me hope for the future of our country and it was refreshing to know that our nation is in the hands of the best and the brightest minds in the country. It was nice to know that each of those minds is being used in the best interest of the American people. This trip also allowed me to step away from my immediate world back home, and to see the country from a different and new perspective.
I came back from DC with the sense that there are so many things that need to be fixed and that I really can help. I have been given amazing opportunities that I can use to help others. Opportunity is not universal but I wish it were. Realistically opportunity will probably never be totally universal but if the people with opportunity use it to help others without it, then we will have a better world.
If I were to say that there wasn’t something that struck me in each interview, then I would be lying. What I really appreciate about this trip is the opportunity that we are given to gain knowledge from our very own congressmen/women, and all sorts of other men and women who have done incredible things with their lives. Another thing that this trip has helped me develop is the ability to work so well as a team, and really get things done. Whether it was working on questions, or simply cleaning up the mess in our room, this trip showed how much teamwork really matters. In my reflection process, I realized that I would never on my own, have been able to do something like this, or even really thought about doing something like this, with out the support of everyone who was on it. It’s just not something that would have considered a feasible activity.
I think people like Don Young and Jeff Flake really do sincerely believe in the policies they support, and there is no calculating mastermind behind the wheel causing them to portray a caricature of what a group of Americans want. They are real people, and they have real opinions, not just pretend views they imitate to get re-elected. This may seem to be a low-level improvement in personal perception, but trust me, it was huge to me In other words, I am always pursuing the truth as much as I can, but as my estimations of it continue to evolve, so does my mood about it. So it meant a lot to me, but more importantly, I’m sure it means a lot to them that I got to see such a clear view of their sincerity and now have such a bigger understanding of their world.
Tenzin Tethong, when asked what makes the Tibetans unique, said, “They are aware of the capacity of more compassion.” I found this to be incredibly inspiring. If everyday people were to make their daily goal to share compassion with one another there wouldn’t be so much isolation in the world, and days would be much easier. If I were perpetually kind to not only others, but to myself, then the fundamental base of who I am would be kindness. One person can carry that light of awareness within them and like a candlewick close to a flame, it will catch sooner or later, there’s no avoiding it. You can turn away from pain with anger and violence, but could you be angry and violent to something that is nothing but kindness?
This trip, in combination with last year’s trip to South Africa, has changed my outlook entirely. In D.C., we met with people every day who are taking on some of the world’s most crucial, complex and difficult issues, and they are changing the world day by day. They recognize their own fortune and are using it to empower others. They made this work and these issues tangible for me, and helped me realize that yes, there is an unimaginable amount of suffering all over the world, and no single person could ever dream of fixing it all. But there is always work to be done, and every life that is saved, every positive change made, positively affects all of us. These people who are running our country, and heading these organizations, are just ordinary people who have worked hard, followed their passion, and made the decision to dedicate their lives to serving their cause, whatever it may be. I can see now that this work is entirely relevant, entirely possible and entirely within my grasp, and I cannot think of anything more inspiring or motivating than that. I will be forever grateful for this extraordinary opportunity, and am determined to use what I learned to fuel me in my work and life.
Ward always tells us that we will never be able to describe this experience—the hero’s journey is one that cannot be easily conveyed or summed up. What I didn’t realize before coming to DC was how true this statement would end up being. How can I possibly talk about what this trip was to me when I can barely figure it out for myself? Every single minute of every single day was an opportunity grasped to learn, to discover, and to be exposed to the world, to your peers, and to yourself. This trip tested my limits, my ability to withstand physical pain, and the strength of my mental might. I was vulnerable; a deer in the headlights with no idea about what would come next. But above all, I was open. For the first time in my life, there was nothing hindering me from taking everything in. I was free to breathe in, to let go of hesitancy and plunge into the deep end of the pool. I uncovered parts of myself that I didn’t know were there. Values and beliefs that had been present but buried beneath the overburdened layers of my conscience. Despite an exhaustion that seems to go all the way to the marrow of my bones, I have never felt more alive. And I know, as the hours go by and I reflect on this trip, that this is just the beginning of the greatest journey of all.