by E. Q., Wilbraham, MA
Each year, the history department in my school selects two students to attend "Presidential Classroom," a week-long seminar in U.S. government and politics. I was selected as one of the two this year - but, as a result of a lack of funds and of time, the other student (who received a $100 instead of a $500 scholarship) chose not to go. So off I went to Washington, D.C., at the end of June, the sole representative of my school, to mingle and learn with 350 other high school juniors and seniors!
The week was without a doubt the most exhilarating experience of my life. For the first time in the history of the program, 50 students from Russia and the Ukraine were taking part, and meeting them and sharing their wonder was like visiting the former U.S.S.R. myself and seeing my own country all over again. The best part of the program was undoubtedly the student participants - for as the week progressed, not only was I caught up in the debates and discussions (both organized and social) but also I became increasingly positive that here, surrounding me on all sides, were the leaders of the future. And for once, I was optimistic about the political system - for though I didn't agree with many of the students at Presidential Classroom, they were undoubtedly the most intelligent, inspired, and inspiring people I have ever met.
Several times daily, we had seminars on various aspects of government. One of the surprise speakers was the Attorney General, Janet Reno! We spent two "free" days on Capitol Hill, during which students met with their senators and representatives. I met and discussed politics with my representative, Richard Nil (whose politics and morals I personally despise - but he was very kind in giving me a lot of his time, and I must say that he taught me how not to do politics). I also briefly shook hands and exchanged greetings with Edward Kennedy. But the highlight of my roaming came when I "dropped in" on Barney Frank, a representative from Eastern Massachusetts (and one of the only two openly gay members of Congress, both from my state!). I was able to speak with him, get an autograph and an invitation to the press conference on the "gays in the military" being held that day. It was thrilling (even more so than shaking hands with a member of the Kennedy clan), for Barney Frank has done more to support both the women's movement and the gay, lesbian, and bisexual movement than almost any other member of Congress.
All in all, the week at Presidential Classroom changed me more than I thought imaginable. It gave me hope and optimism for the future, and a better understanding not just of politics, but of people - teaching me that yes, I could even agree on some issues with a person who would gladly keep Jesse Helms in office. The world is different for me as a result of the people I met and the things I learned there; and I left the week with not only a greater knowledge of the past and the present, but a much greater hope for the future. L
For more information, contact:
Presidential Classroom, 119 Oronoco Street, Alexandria, VA 22314-2015
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.