A Capitol Experience

Alex Marshall
Alex Marshall

I awoke by the orchestra of alarms, ringing from the sea of beds, clothes, and random equipment. Breakfast was early and quick, and then we began our journey through the rain and mist. From station to station, our troop rode down the infinite tunnels of the Metro to finally come to Capitol South. We snuck in the back of the Capitol building through the Longworth Office Building and trekked down the basement tunnels covered and filled with pipes and security checks. Finally, we emerged out of the elevator from the basement to behold the painted ceilings and the wondrous reflective marble floor. There, in front of us, were the massive doors that sealed the room where we would interview Congressman Joe Kennedy, Congressman Dan Donovan, News Executive Kathy O’Hearn and Congressman Earl Blumenauer.

Meeting with Congressman Blumenauer
Meeting with Congressman Blumenauer

The interviews and hours began to pass by, and I noticed a trend within each of the interviews. As each of the people spoke, they emphasized how important it is to follow your passion. They talked about how everyone’s life has a purpose and how the path of life will unravel on its own. All you have to do is follow your passion, whatever it may be, and let the rest fall into place. I was extremely intrigued by how all of the people we interviewed today saw that passion was essential to living life at its fullest, and it was obvious that this was exactly how they got to be in their current positions. Most of them said that they didn’t expect their lives to go in any of the directions that they ended up, but they based all of it off of what they were most passionate about. There was a moment at the end of the Congressman Blumenauer interview that I realized that they all spoke on the topic of passion and following that passion. I found that to be truly inspirational and something that resonates in my own life.


Lily Petersen
Lily Petersen
Congressman Donovan
Congressman Donovan

“I can tell that you’re next, Nate, because he put that thing over your head,” Congressman Dan Donovan said with a smile as Nate introduced himself, talking about Ethan’s boom mic looming over him. I felt the tension melt; legs crossed the other way and giggles slipped from our chapped lips that had been sealed for hours. This was one of the many light-hearted remarks that the Congressman shared with us, making me engaged, relaxed and calm.

My attention was drawn to his red tie garnished with elephants, his suit with subtle pin stripes and his respect to us, high school students who annoyed many others we passed by in the Capitol building. Somehow, his words touched my heart; it wasn’t just what he said but how he said it. He is charismatic and inspiring. A captivating storyteller, Congressman Donovan shared with us his experience of the 9/11 attack. His love and devotion for the residents of New York seeped through the twists and turns of his story, showing us the passion he has for his job. And he advised us to do something that we love and not to settle. “Too many people settle,” he said. He seemed hurt when he said this, with a furrow in his brow. It meant a lot to him that we understood the importance of following our passions and to not get discouraged by the obstacles that may hold us back.

So today a republican, who lives on the opposite side of the nation from me and everything I know, left me feeling inspired, something I never knew could happen. One of his last remarks to us was about doing something instead of not, because you don’t want to regret not doing something later. But here I am, sitting in the quiet, cluttered basement of the Church of Pilgrims—our home for the next two weeks—feeling regretful that I didn’t tell him this when I shook his hand today: your baby is lucky to have a dad like you. Thank you for sharing your stories with us.


Ethan Harrington
Ethan Harrington
Congressman Kennedy
Congressman Kennedy

From the moment he walked in, Congressman Joe Kennedy captivated our class.  He has charisma.  He went around the circle of students and teachers and shook each hand and introduced himself.  With each person he was saying “Hi, how is it going?”  He made each person feel like they were the reason he was there, and it was very powerful.  Seeing someone so young, so full of excitement for what he was doing made me hopeful for the next generation of politicians.  When he was responding to a question he would start his response slowly as he found the right words, and then as he went he would gather steam with more and different words.  We could tell when a question really hit him because he would smile and say, “Wow, that’s a really good one.”  Most every question got a little smile or at least an enthusiastic response, but one question extracted, in my opinion, the most choice of answers.  It was a question that focused on how you preserve relationships especially when you, as he said, “work from 8:00 in the morning to 10:00 at night in 15 minute increments”?  His response was full of integrity.  The ability to own up to mistakes or any sort of error and not try to explain it away is the greatest way to maintain relationships.  “We are all human and we all make mistakes,” said Congressman Kennedy.  That line is something I will remember when he becomes a Senator and maybe more.


Nate Vince
Nate Vince
Congressman Kennedy
Congressman Kennedy

We had arranged with Congressman Joe Kennedy what most would call a meet and greet. Our so-called interview was planned to last fifteen minutes. It is an extraordinary achievement to get even a moment of his time considering his hectic schedule. Yet, compared to our other interviews, it seemed as if it would be a fraction of a moment, but that didn’t stop us from researching and creating questions with any less ferocity or attention to detail. We had searched the Internet for interesting tidbits that ranged from laws passed years ago or using three websites to confirm him speaking Spanish. In short, we were much more than just prepared. We had an early start and were just able to hike our way through the jungle that is DC to arrive at the Heart of Darkness, the Capitol Building. I personally was prepared to face my inner demons to earn the right to ask a question to a man who had become a master of this jungle. As Joe entered he immediately grabbed everyone’s attention. He personally shook the hands of everyone in the room and asked for their names. This came as a shock to me, and even more so when it came to my turn. When he made eye contact with me, it became apparent that he wasn’t just mindlessly shaking hands out of courtesy, but instead seemed to be working to establish a connection with us. I was bewildered as to why someone who was only going to spend fifteen minutes with a bunch of kids from California would put in the effort to try to establish a connection with us. He continued to answer our questions to the best of his ability. He always seemed to know what he wanted to say just not how to articulate it, but he never failed to come across as genuine. After the interview had ended, like a mountain storm, he rolled out just as fast as he had come. Collectively we were all left with the question on our mind, “Wow, how far will he go?”

Mount Madonna students with Congressman Joe Kennedy
Mount Madonna students with Congressman Joe Kennedy

CeCe Moreno
CeCe Moreno

From the moment Kathy O’Hearn walked in, I could tell she exuded confidence — her leather jacket gave it away. She is an executive producer at MSNBC. She talked about the male-dominated industry of journalism, especially during the 1970’s. When speaking about how she navigated the industry while remaining wary of all of her male coworkers she said, “You make decisions in a different reality.” This struck me because she considered where she worked “a different reality.” She had to fight to get positions that the company she worked for believed to be only suitable for men. O’Hearn was allowed to go to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War only because they thought she could “throw a party” during the holidays. Never mind her journalism skills, her domestic skills were the reason she got to go. Fine by her though, because in the end she got to travel to Saudi Arabia.

Kathy O'Hearn
Kathy O’Hearn

The confidence she carries herself with now undoubtedly came from the perseverance and determination that was required of her when she was working as a journalist in the 1970’s. During the interview, Ms. O’Hearn gave us the piece of advice, “Don’t ever let them see you running.” While she meant this literally, she also meant that those that we must leave a good impression on, the men she worked with in her case, shouldn’t see us sweat — they shouldn’t see us get nervous. Remain composed, acknowledge the doubt, and then get rid of it. Ms. O’Hearn couldn’t have gotten to where she is now by doubting herself. She told us to, “Trust what we are drawn to” and to believe in our passion. Multiple times during the interview she also emphasized the fact that we are unique individuals, that “no one else has any other combination like you.”

After the interview, I felt a strong sense of power and purpose in my passion. My dad has told me that I have grit, that I find solutions to obstacles in my way. After hearing his belief in me, along with the belief in myself that O’Hearn instilled in me, I am more excited than ever to pursue what I am passionate about, despite any challenges.


Param Walker
Param Walker

Today we experienced an interview with Kathy O’Hearn, who has produced a number of award-winning television news shows throughout her career. Her path has led her to MSNBC where she is currently working as an executive producer. Over the course of the interview she talked about the struggles of being a woman in the broadcasting industry. In the mid ‘70’s when she began her career, she was one of the only women in news. She endured sexism, such as comments about her body and her abilities as a journalist . She felt like she was never taken seriously and it took a lot of work on her part to prove herself to those around her. She was able to gain recognition and shatter sexist stereotypes by doing better work than others. She said in a previous interview, “As a woman you had to laugh and persevere and say, ‘Well I’m here,’ and just do a better job than any guy around you. That’s how women in those days survived and succeeded.’”

During the interview she did what others rarely do, she asked us our opinions on certain topics. After answering a question on how new social media expanded news platforms, she turned to us in order to ask which websites we find useful and why. Together we discussed different news outlets and what was good or bad about them. A good part of our time with O’Hearn was not an interview but a conversation which allowed ideas on topics to be expressed by more than just one person.

O’Hearn and the others that we interviewed today all had the same message, which was to follow your passion. O’Hearn in particular said that was what kept her in the industry. She never knew how high up the ladder she would climb, nor was there a particular goal in mind. The reason she kept working through the hardship was her love for journalism. All she wanted was to have a job that she loved.

Mount Madonna students with Kathy O'Hearn
Mount Madonna students with Kathy O’Hearn

Cat Ching
Cat Ching

Having grown up in a highly liberal, democratic family and community, I had a cardboard image of what republicans are like. I saw them as having philosophies and political beliefs in direct opposition to mine but Congressman Donovan was very charismatic when answering our questions and showed me what real republicans can be. In our interview with Kathy O’Hearn she said, “You don’t have to agree with someone, but you have to listen.” This quote was really relevant for me when reflecting on our interview with Congressman Donovan.

Congressman Donovan
Congressman Donovan

One thing that surprised me during the interview was when he was responding to a question about how to present your opinion in order to persuade others. He talked about how often congressmen will agree to vote for other congressmen’s bills in order to get votes for their own bill. Congressman Donovan mentioned that a lot of differences in opinions are caused by geographic differences rather than partisanship. He told us how instead of simply trading votes, he tried to find a mutual understanding of differences that pertains to different geographic areas. This respect for other public servants’ opinions inspired me.

I found myself relating to Congressman Donovan to a greater extent than I expected to. He made a statement about his law degree that put into words something I had been thinking about but didn’t fully understand. He said, “I didn’t know what I would do with a law degree. But I knew I would be better with one, than without one.” He also told us to “get real life experience” and to “not settle,” which is really inspiring to me as I start looking into colleges and considering a traveling gap year.

Mount Madonna students with Congressman Dan Donovan
Mount Madonna students with Congressman Dan Donovan

Max Medvedev
Max Medvedev
Congressman Blumenauer
Congressman Blumenauer

There’s a certain type of person that seems to just get it. They cut through social convention and just get to the point, almost as if to spite bureaucracy.  It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Congressman Earl Blumenauer fit into this category. I was pretty excited having researched Congressman Blumenauer and read his voting record. His views were almost entirely aligned with what I saw as right in the world, and what more, he seemed like the kind of person that spoke his mind and took action. He didn’t pull punches, a philosophy that I enjoyed greatly. Right from the get-go he started off by calling out the futility of government trying to manage problems that could be solved on a smaller, more communal basis. In fact, his entire mission statement seemed to be based off of grassroots activism creating a change in society from the ground up. Furthermore he managed to bring this message across in such a charismatic and inspirational fashion, that it was hard not to get carried away by his passion.

Another topic that he spoke on is the lack of connection that had developed within communities with the advent of the millennial generation. He brought up the fact that more people than ever before are bowling, and yet bowling leagues are dying off because the commitment needed to participate on a team with others was sadly absent. It was a perspective that I hadn’t previously considered, and yet it clicked instantly. I don’t know how to describe it. The feeling was electric. I wanted to drop everything and get out there and help someone.

Mount Madonna students with Congessman Blumenauer
Mount Madonna students with Congessman Blumenauer
  • Christine Nelson Smith

    Hey juniors and seniors, your blog posts are great! Very insightful and eloquent. Looks like you are all taking away some great bits of wisdom from your DC experience so far.

  • Tiffany

    Great insights! I’m intrigued by what each of you takes away from these conversations in the form of inspiration, career/life guidance, and shifts in political perspective.
    Max, your story about Congressman Blumenauer reminded me that there’s actually a book called “Bowling Alone” that I read for a college class I was teaching a few years ago. I’m guessing he read this book as well and it inspired the comment he shared with you!
    http://bowlingalone.com/