A video encompassing the entire trip of Mount Madonna School’s juniors and seniors to Washington, DC in May 2016.
A video encompassing the entire trip of Mount Madonna School’s juniors and seniors to Washington, DC in May 2016.
Behind the veil there are many instances of human connection that truly embodied our emotional connection to the Washington, DC trip as a whole. Each instance proves to be a moment reaching endlessly: a moment that has shaped us as human beings.
There is something remarkably natural about the most unnatural of human creations—the modern city. Skyscrapers the redwoods of my native coast, roads deer paths drawn in asphalt, the subway the rabbit’s warren. It is as if left to our own devices, we revert to the wilderness our bones still call home. As not only a planned city, but also one specifically built to be a nation’s capitol, Washington D.C. poses an interesting case. The founding fathers placed the District of Columbia carefully independent of the states and in the geographic center between north and south. The design, as it has evolved reflects the constitution and its system of checks and balances.
The Washington Monument glowed rosy gold against the twilit sky. A quietness seemed to settle as our group approached, not an auditory one, rather the quietness of mood that comes when hundreds of strangers are focused on one thing, one tower reaching up to the stars. To the north was the White House, a working monument to the executive branch of the government. Facing back the way we came, the Capitol Building was visible just above the trees of the National Mall as the legislative branch symbol. Around the corner of the obelisk was the Jefferson Memorial, the judicial branch. And around the last side, the Lincoln Memorial shone double in the reflecting pool. I had always been uncomfortable around patriotism because I thought of it as a blind pride in the country as it is. On this trip, my idea of patriotism shifted to be more along the lines of hope for what the country could be and the drive to help it get there. Standing in the circle of billowing flags and craning my neck to see where the tip of the obelisk pierced the night, I felt a wave of this new patriotism.
Washington D.C. was built as a model of what we hope to be as a country, but it is the people that give it life. The people show who we are. People like Congressman Joe Kennedy who get to work at eight in the morning and leave at ten pm, trying to make the country function better. People like Melanne Verveer who see the world as it ought to be and have hope we can get there. People like the banjo player who motivated our way up the Dupont Circle steps, who make their way through a difficult life with tenacity and hope. Just as I see the monuments and streets of D.C. as representative of the structure of the nation as a whole, I see the people as representative of all the potential for positive change resting within the 324 million individuals that are the life of the United States.
Interview with Ray Suarez
I had been looking forward to interviewing Ray Suarez since the very beginning of the trip. I had heard a lot about his tendency to say exactly what he means and thinks, which definitely proved to be true. So it’s needless to say that after sitting next to the empty chair meant for Suarez, I was pretty nervous. We were told that whoever is seated next to him has to make small talk while we ate breakfast. Interviews I can handle no problem, small talk, not so much.
Through breakfast, Suarez told me and the few others seated near him about a new biography he is writing and a little about the man it’s about. He also spoke to me about being a journalist in New York City and how with the increasing ease of posting blogs, articles and opinions on the Internet, it seems as though anyone can be a journalist.
The interview was soon underway and with each question, the intensity of my nerves grew. Then right when I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest and land on the table in front of me, one of the questions I had written was asked. It was based off of a quote from Suarez which said, “People have always asked me about doing live television and live radio, ‘Do you get nervous?’ I wouldn’t call it nervous as a kind of forced concentration that is mental and physical at the same time.” In his response to the question, Suarez described to us the difference between nervousness and hyper awareness. He said that nervousness undermines your ability to do anything, but hyper awareness is like being a conductor of an orchestra. After he said this, I realized that I wasn’t nervous anymore. I had subconsciously taken his advice and not let my nervousness undermine my ability to pay attention to the interview and instead turned it into hyper awareness.
Something that truly struck me during the interview was in his response to the very last question. When asked what advice he would give to his younger self, he said, “to relax a little more because some stuff just gets taken care of in time.” This quote resonated very deeply with me because I have a tendency of worrying too much about how things are going to turn out and what I’m going to do with my life. But after really thinking about what he said, I realized that I don’t need to figure everything out, I don’t need to take care of everything right now because “some stuff just gets taken care of in time.”
Overall, I really enjoyed our interview with Ray Suarez. His ability to engage an audience was impressive to say the least. After interviewing numerous politicians, it was refreshing to interview someone who spoke their mind without hesitation. From biased media, to Trump, to the Boy Scouts, he always seemed to draw my attention and curiosity no matter what we were talking about.
Ray Suarez reports the truth and only the truth, and he tells us many other reporters have lost sight of this basic law. Fox News and other entertainment channels have been built to lie and build hatred towards anyone whose name is mentioned. This doesn’t only affect that person’s life, but ours as well, making us have a bias when we talk, interact and especially vote. The power speech has today is simply overwhelming, but Mr. Suarez says it can also be used for good as well. If we use our voice to report news and issues in a way that educates without panicking the public, then we are doing news right. Many issues are exaggerated to the point where it shadows over real issues. This is a huge problem because those issues could have been fixed by the very system made to fix them. As a nation, we need to fix our voice to better suit America; only then can we truly see the issues we face as a world.
Interview with Norris Cochran and Ellen Murray
One of the interviews today that we did was with Norris Cochran and Ellen Murray from the Department of Health and Human Services. It was the first and only interview that we did with two people. I thought that it went very well. Norris is a family friend, so it was really nice to see him. Both Norris and Ms. Murray had very interesting and informative things to say. We learned more in depth about the Department of Health and Human Services. They spoke more about some of the specific diseases that they are funding to find more research for, such as the Zika virus. They also told stories about their journey in their career path and how they got to where they are now. In addition they stressed the importance of public service. They believe that it is very important to be passionate about your work and to serve for a greater purpose outside yourself.
I agree strongly with what they had to say about serving the greater good and doing what you love. Like many of the others we interviewed, they talked about the mentors they had in their lives that helped and inspired them along their career path. Before this trip I had never realized the importance and impact that mentors have on individuals achieving their goals. Ellen had to leave to go to a meeting slightly earlier than the cut off time, but we were still able to finish the wonderful interview with Norris Cochran. Out of the people l talked to everyone seemed to have really liked Norris and Ms. Murray. Both were articulate, well-spoken, and kind. At the end of the interview, Norris gave me a Department of Health and Human Services mug, which was the sprinkles on top of a very intriguing interview.
I did not know who Norris Cochran or Ellen Murray were before yesterday. I mean I had seen their names, done some research and such, but anyone who says they develop a real sense of who people are based on online research is simply speaking from a fictitious point of view. The Department of Health and Human Services was under some criticism by protesters when we arrived. The fuss was from some people who wanted funding for research of chronic fatigue syndrome. Because it is something that doesn’t sound dire, apparently some patients were apparently labeled as such and turned away. That was disheartening to hear. One of our family friends was not diagnosed but was having horrible trouble staying awake during everyday activities. It became a point of fear for all when she said she had been falling asleep behind the wheel regularly. Perhaps I was a bit put off, hearing about this and relating it to my own life, but the connection concerned me.
When Norris and Ms. Murray spoke to us, I felt better. They were kind, funny, and very clearly cared a great deal about people’s health and well being, or they would have very simply not been doing the public service that demands such a great amount of care and attention. They are good people doing great work, and although I am fearful and hope that there will soon be some research into this area of illness, I didn’t feel the distain felt by these protesters. If they were to meet the people we did and understand, as I do now, the dedication they put in each day, the protestors might feel differently. At the same time I hope they also see and approve some funding for this. Isn’t it the way of the world for these miscommunications to occur with good intention but to be overlooked by emotion? I wish the best for them all.
The Capitol Gallery
Ward preaches that you say “Yes” to every opportunity. On this day, I am glad that we followed his advice. We were sitting on the lawn in front of the Capitol, hungrily munching on our lunch. Despite the fact that it was the eightieth hummus and cheese sandwich I have had on the trip, I was happy to eat; I was hungry. Suddenly Ward yelled, “Get up! Pack everything away! Leave your bags behind; let’s go. We’re going to the Gallery.” I didn’t ask any questions, I just ditched my sandwich and left with the group. We were escorted my Tom Tucker, Sam Farr’s Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff. We were ushered through yet another metal detector—at this point we knew the drill. We were then led past the statues of former Congressmen, eternalized in copper on a marble pedestal. Then we walked up the steps and came face to face with a huge painting, it covered the entire wall. It was The Signing of the Constitution, and it looked like the real painting! So this must be what The Gallery is, a bunch of paintings! We went through another metal detector and walked through doors that I expected to lead into a gallery of paintings. It did not.
We walked out onto a balcony that overlooked a huge, bustling room with rows of benches and a formidable table in the front. I recognized this place, but I had only seen it on T.V. and in clips on Facebook. It was where Congressmen voted for bills and held debates. We all peered over the edge of the balcony and excitedly pointed out familiar faces. “Look, there’s Joe Kennedy! Is that John Lewis? Ooh look Huffman!” Tom Tucker handed us papers that explained the bills, so we had a general idea of what they were voting on. “Blumenauer voted no! Cole voted yes! Donovan changed his vote!” It was exciting seeing the process of passing bills and amendments. I was directly witnessing Congressmen at work. I thought of my sister Ciana and how much she would have loved to see the organized chaos going on below me. Everyone was talking and shaking hands, laughing and having a good time. I was amazed. Despite the seriousness of the amendments that were being passed, which had to do with energy funding, the Congressmen were all having a good time.
In witnessing this, I witnessed the humanity of politics. It was not mindless democracy, separated by just Democrat and Republican. It was people who proudly represented where they came from, people who did their job with passion. I noticed that Congressman Blumenauer voted differently that I thought the other Democrats would, but after meeting him and understanding how intelligent he is, I trusted that there was reason behind it. Many politicians changed their vote, showing how conflicted they may be on issues. And Congressman Cardenas was not voting at all, because we knew he was back in L.A. with his newborn grandchild. Congressman Sam Farr was talking about us with his fellow Congressmen, beaming and waving from the floor below. These are people, who were chosen by the people to represent them. They are not defined by their party, but rather their actions as people. They are not defined by their stance on their issues, but rather their constituents for whom they stand for.
Interview with Tenzin Tethong
As I was behind the camera during our interview with Tenzin Tethong, I was not able to write down any quotes. But on the other hand, the camera I was behind was the one that focuses on his face, so I was able to pay closer attention to him. Through the headphones connected to his microphone I could hear his soft voice clearly. His voice was so calming and stories flowed from him with an ease that reminded me of my grandmother. I could easily see how he managed to relax scared Tibetan refugees.
I loved listening to what he learned from the Dalai Lama about how to respect all people, regardless of race, gender, or age. He talked about how he sees all people as people and not in regards to how society might categorize them. He also talked about how language is important in preserving culture. He said that language is important in order to share knowledge from educational experiences with others.
Another characteristic that stood out about him was his humility. He did not see others in a certain way and he did not see himself as any more than others, despite the fact that he’s helped so many people. His devotion to his people was evident in every word he spoke, and from behind the camera, I could clearly see how deeply interested he was at what people were saying when he spoke to them. Overall I really appreciated that he took the time out to speak with us.
I’ll admit; it was hard to focus in the hot and muggy DC air. The temperature stayed at a steady 90 degrees throughout the day, and everyone definitely felt the heat go to their head. We sat down for our final interview, with Tenzin Tethong, and my foggy mind was trying its hardest to focus. However, Tenzin Tethong’s story enabled me to delve into our final interview.
Tenzin Tethong began the interview with a background of the radio station Radio Free Asia (RFA). He barely went into his remarkable and captivating story of his own life, which emphasized his humility. As the interview progressed, he shared his knowledge of Tibet and its interesting culture. With each question, new pieces of his story emerged, allowing us to begin to piece together our understanding of his life, which kept everyone in the room wanting to know more. Even after the interview, I feel like I am still tugged into the amazing spiral of culture, experience, and humbleness that Tenzin Tethong possesses.
One of the quotes that struck me was when he was talking about his time at the Tibetan refugee school in Mussoorie and the impact it had on him. He said, “Out of chaos and disorder, you can grow into something better.” I resonated with this because I have found that it’s difficult to pull oneself out of a difficult situation or experience, and it’s even harder to imagine something good coming out of it. What I ultimately took away from this was that in those arduous moments, there is room for growth and optimism, and I think that is something that I will carry with me throughout my life.
You know that feeling before you ride a rollercoaster? The sweaty palms, stomach full of butterflies, the queasy feeling of not being in control? That’s how I felt every time I thought of the fact that we would actually get to meet Congressman John Lewis. I couldn’t believe we had the opportunity to meet a man so significant in the fight for civil rights. This morning before our interview, I made sure to pack both my copies of March, the first of his graphic novel series in which he describes his journey as a Civil Rights activist—I was hoping to get them signed.
We held the interview in his office. It was cozy and welcoming with black and white pictures covering the wall. They captured his raw moments of passion as a young activist. I remember one specifically; he was walking next to Dr. King, mouth open in either song or protest, brows furrowed, and fist placed defiantly on his heart. That powerful moment, preserved in such a small frame, was a reminder of the strength that lies within Mr. Lewis.
When Congressman Lewis walked in, his warm smile sent the butterflies in my stomach flying away. My nervousness melted away into excitement. Despite my sandpaper voice, I introduced the group. In response, he opened with some beautiful statements. One of them stuck with me. He said, “I believe in the way of peace, the way of love, of nonviolence, as a way of life.” I thought back to the brutality he faced and found it inspiring that he stuck so true to his values. Despite the anger and hatred thrown at him, he remained nonviolent—and even managed to find love for his perpetrator. When we asked him about how he had felt liberated the first time he got arrested, he told us that he had bought a suit for $5 at the second-hand store because he wanted to look good when he went to jail; he had been looking forward to it.
John Lewis brought to life a period of history that I have only read about in textbooks and saw in movies. To me, it had been an undoubtedly dark time in American History, but was so intangible that the blatant discrimination was a bit difficult to imagine. Maybe I am lucky to grow up in such an accepting society—or maybe I am too afraid to imagine the terrors people of color had to go through. Reading his graphic novel and speaking to him made me come to realize the battle that many people had to fight in order to reach racial equality. I didn’t meet John Lewis while he was fighting for civil rights, but I can only imagine the strength and passion he led with—especially while remaining nonviolent. I can still see it in him. In response to a question about self-doubt, without missing a beat, he said, “I have never doubted myself.” As someone who doubts herself often, I found power in the simplicity of his statement. He made waves of change, and it was in part carried by the power of belief in himself and his movement. Perhaps when change is so necessary, there is no room for doubt.
At the end of the interview, he closed with the advice, “Continue on the path of peace, of love, of grace. Never give up, be hopeful, be optimistic. Don’t get lost in the sea of despair, and be happy. Whatever you do, be happy.” Congressman Lewis faced discrimination worse than anything that my peers and I will ever have to experience, has fought battles more difficult than we will ever have to, and been violently attacked beyond what we can imagine, yet he remains an example of nonviolence.
His advice to be happy, no matter what we do, is hopeful. If he has remained happy, then I know that I have every reason to be happy too, despite any challenge I face. John Lewis is a symbol of standing for what you believe is right, being a leader of change, and remaining positive despite adversity. I will remember interviewing him—and getting a hug—forever. He has opened my eyes to the emotional and personal battles behind a dark part of America’s history.
It’s not everyday one can say that they met a living legend. Right as Congressman John Lewis walked into the monument-plastered room, the history he carried on his shoulders was palpable, and I think everybody present felt it. Every word he spoke had a story behind it. However, all this backstory in no way reduced how incredibly humble this man was. Congressman Lewis never spoke down to us, never was condescending or pompous about how much he changed the country for the better. Kindness and humility are mannerisms that he proudly wears on his sleeve. His storytelling skills are phenomenal. One story he told will stay with me for a while. Years ago when he and a bunch of friends got off a bus, they were attacked and beaten by KKK members. Years later, a man came into his office with his son and said, “Hello, Mr. Lewis, I’m one of the men who beat you when you got off that bus. I want to apologize. I’m so sorry.” The son started crying, the father started crying, and Mr. Lewis forgave. And he cried as well, and they all hugged. I stood there in amazement after he told that tale. It blew my mind how a man could be so forgiving and nonviolent after suffering such harsh injustices, a lesson that so many people could learn today. I will never forget talking with this man and the genuine incredulity I felt during every moment I was with him.
We walked along the glossy marble hallway of the Cannon building, passing by freshmen office after office until we reached the placard embossed: Representative John Lewis. Our group of 34 was corralled into a quaint room with framed photographs and paintings of political figures and emotional scenes covering every opening of space on the tall walls. I found a seat in front of a glass display case filled with mementos of the Civil Rights Movement, photographs of a younger John Lewis and awards that he garnered over the course of his career as an activist and politician. As we sat, an anticipatory buzz filled the room as we investigated our surroundings. I clutched my copy of Across That Bridge, one of his many books, tightly to my chest and mentally prepared myself to meet one of the last remaining leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, the man who led the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama and played a fundamental role in shaping the United States into what it is now.
John Lewis’ face is kind and warm, yet full of a certain strength and toughness. He spoke to us about his work during the Civil Rights Movement and some of the fond memories he had of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. What amazed me the most about John Lewis was his dedication to nonviolence. He told us, “I believe in the way of peace, of love, of nonviolence as a way of life.” He proceeded to tell us the story of how he and his seatmate were brutally beaten by a member of the Ku Klux Klan in a whites-only waiting room at a South Carolina bus station during the freedom rides. Because of his adherence to nonviolence, John Lewis did not retaliate physically or legally. He told us that many years later, a man named Elwin Wilson came to his office in Cannon, and explained that he was John Lewis’ attacker. Elwin Wilson asked for forgiveness, and John Lewis accepted his apology. As he told the story, I could see that he was replaying this memory in his mind. He told us that he and Elwin Wilson are now very good friends because of the powerful bond of forgiveness. Hearing this story tugged at my heart and made tears gather along the edges of my eyes. I was full of admiration for John Lewis’ ability to forgive. I hope to follow Congressman John Lewis on this path of peace, love and nonviolence.
Congressman John Lewis’ office is full of civil rights history. The walls are covered with pictures of him and the amazing Martin Luther King Jr. You can see what he went through to have the rights that we have today. When he first entered he had a wonderful smile on his face, excited to talk with us. He had a sense of power around him and carried so much respect with him. When asked about his time with incarceration, physical abuse, and segregation he still says he lives by peace and love and that’s what leads him through life. It’s something we should all try to do to make the world a better place. He also said he kept his eyes on the prize and didn’t let all the negative things that happened to him distract him from the goal he was working towards. The thing that touched me the most was a story he told about the time he and his friend were at a bus stop and a group of men came and attacked him and left them in a pile of their own blood. Years later one of the men that attacked him came with his son to his office to apologize and without hesitation he forgave him. I wondered how he could forgive someone for doing such horrible things to him, but he said the most powerful experience is forgiveness. It’s something that I hope to have the power to possess. Another thing that amazed me was his relationship with Martin Luther King Jr. He said he wouldn’t know where he would be today without him, and he was like a big brother, and to have the privilege to work with him was such an honor. It was a privilege for us to be able to interview such an amazing man.
Interview with Congressman Tony Cárdenas
The first thing that struck me about Congressman Antonio Cárdenas was his passion. While he was talking to us, the strong emotion he felt towards the message he was trying to convey was apparent. He told us about how he was raised in a tough town, and I was impressed by how that influenced his choices as a congressman. Many of the people we’ve interviewed have been influenced by their childhood, but Congressman Cárdenas uses his childhood experiences to fuel his daily decisions. His determination to make sure that the people living in his district are given equal opportunities and the chance to a better life is inspiring.
Another thing Congressman Cárdenas discussed with us that was considerably unique to the other interviews was when he told us about the dedication required in public service. He had been on a red eye flight the night before in order to spend as much time with his daughter as possible before returning to DC. “Public service is very demanding; don’t expect it to be easy,” he told us as he informed us that today was his daughter’s due date. While he told us he hoped we would be inspired to become politicians, he also taught us that it wouldn’t be easy making the possibility seem more real. I felt honored that he would take the time out to talk to us with so much going on in his life.
I think Congressman Cárdenas was particularly inspiring to our group because his policies and issues are close to home. He spoke about agricultural workers and immigrants, which are highly prevalent in our area. He also mentioned that he went to college at UCLA, where our school has several alumni attending and one student (Sophia) who will be attending next year.
The thing that struck me the most was when he said, “Ignorance isn’t bad if you try to learn,” talking about how if you live your life with a single narrative, which in itself isn’t bad as long as you are willing to learn and open your mind to other possibilities. His final advice to us was to “try to learn from others,” and “don’t ever think you’re always right.”
“Welcome to your Capitol; I’m your public servant,” was the first thing Congressman Antonio Cárdenas said to us after he settled into his seat. Just from this opening sentence, the room got a sense for what he was all about. We were in the same room we had already interviewed Congressman Sam Farr with pale yellow walls decorated with painted and framed photos of acclaimed people, and dark wooden chairs placed around a lighter shaded wood table. I found myself staring at the minute chips and scratches on the thick books in the shelves and, for lack of better words, spacing out as we awaited the Congressman.
When he entered the room, Cárdenas’ clear, articulate, and fast-paced way of speaking made it easy for me to focus and become increasingly interested in what he was saying. Something that Cárdenas said that struck me was his emphasis on us, the youth of America, and our part in creating the future for ourselves and our communities. He spoke a lot about how, “people need to empower themselves”, and to, “work hard and value everything you get.”
It was lessons and values like these that I especially took away from this interview. What drove this idea deeper was his connection to his growing up in Pacoima, California. He spoke about his family and how they had influenced the values of hard work, honesty, and being humble into his growing up, and how he tries to implement these into his work as a congressman as much as he can. Just as he started, he ended the interview with advice that tied the values spoken about earlier all together. He said, “Somebody needs to step and up and make things better, and that can be you. That should be you.” His deep focus and emphasis on our power as students and young adults inspired me.
Interview with Senator Joe Manchin
Today was a very important day for me in Washington, DC. We were interviewing Senator Joe Manchin. Senator Manchin is a close friend of my grandparents and has been for many years. Arranging an interview with him has been my own project I’ve been working on for a majority of the trip. I have been on the phone all week with my grandparents, mother, and Bryer Davis, who works in Senator Manchin’s office. As soon as the senator heard that we wanted an interview he texted me and told me how much he was looking forward to meeting with us. He was so nice and gave me the number of Ms. Davis to plan a date and time. I got everything worked out with her and she texted me updates on the schedule, and I gave her Ward’s email because mine wasn’t going through.
As we walked into the building, I felt like a huge hot shot and incredibly proud of myself for doing something that will benefit all of the people that are here with me. I was a little stressed as well because it seemed that everyone expected me to know everything about what was going on. I answered questions as best as I could, even though my knowledge was limited, and I prepared myself for the interview. A bunch of my classmates had been working really hard all week researching him and trying to write questions. We were all very thrilled to be embarking on our first and only senatorial interview.
As everyone took their seats I preached to my class that they should be especially respectful (even though they are respectful to whoever we are interviewing) because we were all upholding my family name and I was not going to have any dropping of the ball. I walked out into the hallway and saw Senator Manchin walking down the hall. He exclaimed, “Isabella, you look just like your mama!” and gave me a hug. I showed him in the room and we began the interview.
In the interview he expressed little nuggets of wisdom that were told to him by his grandmother and that I often hear from my own mother. One beautiful little sentiment was, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This really stuck with me and made me think of all the sweet people I’ve met in West Virginia. He talked about how patriotic West Virginia is and how much people that live there love their state.
Our interview was quickly wrapped up as the senator was called to vote. He whisked me and three other students away under the Dirksen building onto a little train that took us to the senate. There Senator Manchin voted and we talked to a few people that work for him and help him keep his days running smoothly.
All four of us were awe struck standing in a beautiful hallway with huge swinging chandeliers, huge pillars, and gorgeous paintings. After voting was over we swooped back over to the room for a group photo and final thank you’s. I am so grateful for this experience, and it is unlike anything I expected. Thank you so much to my grandparents, my mother, and Senator Manchin for making this possible for our little group of adventurers. I will never forget this day.
We were connected with Senator Joe Manchin because Bella’s grandmother grew up with him. As the first and last Senator we would interview, I was interested in what he was going to say, especially because I wanted to learn the viewpoints of moderate democrat. He had a very subtle southern accent and distinctly angular facial features. He was a well-spoken and outspoken man in some areas.
What was most inspiring was his steadfast nature concerning his values that he had absorbed as a child. He was a man made by his environment and grew up in a blue-collar family that was well off enough to live comfortably, and his mother would cook bread to give to people for free. I think he has maintained the humble nature that he was infused with. I have the utmost respect for people who find their values and then stick to them within reason; those are the kind of people that are deserving of trust.
I was delighted to find out that he identified as a moderate democrat, but he did not constrict his decisions to that of either party. He said each vote he would look at from an angle of his values and he would vote for what he thought was right regardless of party. This is intriguing because I haven’t been exposed to people that vote in that way, and I respect that decision-making process. Even if I don’t agree with some of the things he supports fundamentally, I can understand that since those things are relevant to his constituents and he has to be a good representative of them to gain support, they are valid decisions.
After the interview, he had to immediately leave for two votes, and I was lucky enough to get to follow him through the ropes, along with Julia, Isaac, and Bella. We rushed down the elevator, and onto the underground Capitol Subway where we also met Senator Schumer. The corridor it followed was fluorescently lit with calm white walls and went from the Dirksen Senate Office Building to the Capitol. As we got off, walked past a flock of journalists and reporter, and entered the Senate side, the world transitioned from dull whitewashed walls to pure historic artistry.
We waited in the gallery for him to finish voting and talked with his three assistants. I asked them about how they got to where they are now, and we all talked about Senator Manchin and the senate in general as we admired the art all around us. The floor, the ceiling, the walls, the trim, everywhere that there could be art, there was art. The upstairs painting, Battle of Lake Erie was twenty feet long and spanned the entire wall. Gold painted lights hung elegantly down and brought out the color in the expanse of artful architecture.
As we left, Isaac and I told the Senator how much we respected him. I told him that I admired his ability to stick to his values regardless of party. We continued to talk, and eventually we came back to the conference room where we interviewed him, where the group took pictures with him and our interview came to an end.
A gracious soul, a leader, a mentor, Senator Joe Manchin welcomed us by giving us each a firm handshake and a warm smile. A man who is dedicated to public service and helping Americans, Senator Joe Manchin told us how he doesn’t look at the party lines, he looks at the issue. He doesn’t vote as a Democrat, he votes as Joe Manchin, a human being with values. I think that’s something I can work on; I shouldn’t judge people by a title or a skin color or the way they look. Instead I could be open-minded like the Senator who inspired me today.
Today Senator Joe Manchin reminded us to keep sight of what is important to us and we should base that off of our values and how we were raised. And he reminded us that being wealthy or being famous isn’t always an option, but being happy is. “If you like yourself, you’ll be happy,” he said with conviction.
I think an overarching theme I’ve heard on this journey is to be happy with who I am. From Susannah Wellford, to Kakenya Ntaiya, to the Senator today, they’ve all made the point that we are enough just the way we are. This trip has developed my confidence and has boosted my spirit because of the words shared with us from these incredible leaders, activists and politicians.
Finally, I’ll end with the quote the Senator shared with us from John F. Kennedy, “In West Virginia, the sun might not always shine but the people always do.” And Senator Joe Manchin is a shining example of that.
Senator Joe Manchin was the sole senator we were able to interview, and with that I observed that there was a strong difference from the representatives we have been interviewing for the past week and a half. Rather than focusing on the concerns of a small constituency, Senator Manchin focused on the all-encompassing concerns of West Virginia.
Coming from a blue collar family he had an agenda relying heavily on common sense. Senator Manchin brought in strong ideals of bipartisanship and even conservative viewpoints, all the while being a democrat! Although, with all of this aside, what really made this man for me was being able to follow him on a quick and eventful tangent to the senate voting floor. After the interview portion he was called for a vote, and Louis, Julia, Bella, and I were lucky enough to be chosen to accompany him and his assistants.
While on this journey we met Senator Schumer on the private senate rail car. I genuinely felt like there were so many people surrounding me, who were intelligent and competent in their field; there was much that was to be absorbed from an environment like this. This event was also such a spur of the moment one, so my peers and I were not even cleared to be on this level of the senate building. All in all, the adrenaline and pure awe that I experienced while running around with Senator Joe Manchin cannot even be put into words.
Admiral Stephen Rochon is the former Executive Director of the White House Residence.
Kathy Calvin is the President of the U.N. Foundation.
“Everyone has this vision that a ladder is the way you have to move through an organization. Today’s world is actually a lattice and so the definition of growth is really changing.” As Kathy Calvin, President of the United Nations Foundation spoke, I imagined a spiderweb of connections spreading out from each of us sitting at the light-filled conference room. I saw the threads extending through the windows of the seventh-story office across the city skyline and beyond. I saw hers run from the woman sitting before us in a gold and black checked jacket and hammered gold teardrop to the previous jobs she held in government and for-profit business and from all of us to the careers we will one day pursue. She explained that there are valuable lessons to learn from each sector and every job. Specifically, we can bring the efficiency of business to the non-profit sector so we aren’t being wasteful with resources. What really struck me about what she said was that there’s a common thread that has been in every one of her jobs.
She is a translator; she has a gift for understanding complexity and explaining it to others in simpler terms that remain accurate and meaningful. That was clear from the interview today. She spoke with a clear precision that conveyed both her tremendous intellect and her driving force to find solutions for our most pressing world issues. The threads I saw radiating out from each of us changed meaning as I realized they represent the qualities each of us has to foster. So I saw that as the paradigm shifts from ladder to lattice, the notion of leadership must also shift to one in which each individual in an organization is responsible for leading in some way.
Just as Kathy Calvin directs her organization as a member of the team, the UN Foundation works with developing countries in a partnership. We have talked a lot in class and on this trip about the danger of a single narrative and the problems that come when we try to help people in other countries without first understanding what they need and want. With very little explanation from us, Ms. Calvin leapt to the subject, one that she was clearly passionate about. She said: “We’re moving away from a world where it is top down to one of co-creation.” I was impressed by the amount of thought she had put into the problem. The solution she gave was two-pronged. Listen to what people say they need because they are the ones experiencing the issues and collect and read data in better ways to see what may not be apparent close-up. An example she gave of how data can make a difference is how children zero to five-years-old are given a lot of attention by the international aid community, yet for girls especially, from age six until they have their own children, foreign aid disappears. The phrase is still ringing in my ears: “The girl in the middle was being lost.” I had never thought of it that way before. Again I saw a connection between the office in which we met and the work the UN Foundation does in developing countries worldwide.
Though Ms. Calvin never made a big deal about being a woman in a high position of power, it became apparent that her perspective helped her see how necessary women’s rights are as a focus of humanitarian work. I couldn’t help noticing the assertive way her earrings swung as she passionately translated her experiences and lessons to our group. I left the room inspired and elated. In all ways I try to make a difference, I want to cultivate the power of quiet leadership within myself.
A common theme throughout our trip has been the value and the responsibility of the younger generations. Just about every person we have interviewed has told us that we are the future. That we as a generation have the job of taking on the problems of the world from a new perspective. It is a weighty responsibility, a torch that we are handed whose original bearer knows not where we will take it. Of all the amazing powerhouses we have met, I think Kathy Calvin is the most understanding of and the most curious about our generation and what we will do as we move into prominence.
Kathy Calvin is the president of the UN Foundation, an organization that advocates for the United Nations within the U.S. While many older generations are hopeful for the unseen possibilities we might achieve, she is the first who clearly outlined the possibilities she does see. She sees us as having shifted to more egalitarian views of the world. Stating that we are considerably more color, race, nationality and especially gender blind than many before us, and that in some ways we can be very class blind. We appear to be a good step forward for the rights movements of the past century.
Ms. Calvin also thinks it likely that we will start to move away from the corporate ladder. Instead of climbing from one title to the next, we may instead shift from one position to another as needs, abilities, and interests arise. In fact she sees much of the future as far more fluid. As people turn to trying to help make change in place of simply providing charity, non-profits will become more efficient and business should become more philanthropic. The lines between them will become ever more blurred, helped in no small part by improving technology and connectivity. Our generation is the first to grow up in a world with the Internet, and we expect data and information at speeds that are unprecedented. While the criticisms that are often leveled at us about our problems with face to face connection contain a measure of truth, we do interface with each other in new broad ways that are unexplored.
We are new. In many ways we are different. No one yet knows what among those differences will help us, but Ms. Calvin holds hope for our abilities, and that is a weight on my shoulders, a weight of responsibility for which I feel prepared and ready. Bring it on world; here we come.
Evan Ryan is the Assistant Secretary of State for Education and Cultural Affairs
As we patiently awaited the arrival of Evan Ryan, I read my question over and over, trying to engrain each word into my head, although I knew that when the time came, my nerves would disable my ability to look up from my paper. Every time I heard the thud of the door closing, my heart would skip a beat. After doing so much research and work on this interview, I couldn’t seem to shake the idea that she would enter the room and not be the person I had worked her up to be in my head. While we waited, Enriqueta Tamayo, who was filling in as Evan Ryan’s assistant, told us about her work as a Foreign Service Officer. She spoke about the myriad of countries she has lived in including Pakistan and Botswana and said that Uruguay would be her next adventure. While she was telling us about her nomadic lifestyle and career, something clicked in my head and I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ All of the ideas, plans, and hopes I’ve had for what I want to do in the future all just pieced together and the interview hadn’t even started yet.
Evan Ryan walked into the room with an aura of confidence that was impressively balanced with humility. She sat down in the seat next to me and the interview began. In her position as Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, she is an ardent advocator for studying abroad which is something I desperately wish to do. Therefore, the entire interview was very interesting and inspiring for me. However, one thing in particular that struck me in the interview was when Assistant Secretary Ryan told us a phrase one of her mentors used to tell her: “You should always feel like your head is a little bit underwater.”
This strive for challenges seemed to be a theme of the interview. “Don’t be complacent, challenge yourself because otherwise you’ll get bored,” was one of the many pieces of advice she gave us along this theme. This idea was very intriguing for me as I have always thought that once you overcome a challenge, you can relax and just float by because you’re no longer faced with difficulty. However, Assistant Secretary Ryan introduced me to the idea that you should always be faced with challenges. She even told us that once she feels like she knows all of the answers, she knows that it’s the time for her to change jobs.
While doing research on the Assistant Secretary, we got into a discussion about the process of returning from traveling and sharing our experiences with our community. It came to our attention that many people who return from overseas and have experiences that change them in some way are not able to integrate back into society and are faced with severe isolation, which in extreme cases can lead to isolation and depression. I thought this point was very interesting as everyone focuses on the abroad part and the actual experience, but we rarely think about the changes a person goes through after such an experience and how these changes make it difficult to integrate back into society. We asked Evan Ryan if the State Department has something similar to the presentations we do in returning from trips. Her response was that she meets with the students personally once they’ve returned. This caused me to admire and respect her even more than I already did. It showed me how personally invested she is in the work she does and the students she sends abroad. I hope to be doing something in the future that I love and enjoy so much that I can be as invested in it as she is.
Overall, Assistant Secretary Evan Ryan lived up to and went beyond my hopes and expectations. Her concise yet thoughtful responses were inspiring to say the least and helped me put into words what I have always wanted to do with my life. There was a moment after she had left the room and we were packing up our gear when I suddenly stopped and envisioned myself in twenty or so years in the very same room I was standing, but not as a student, as a Foreign Service Officer, or Secretary, or maybe even an Ambassador.
Thomas “Mack” McLarty was Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton.
Today we were graced to interview Thomas “Mack” McLarty, a business tycoon, former White House Chief of Staff, Counselor to the President, and Special Envoy for the Americas under President Clinton, whom he knew since childhood. Prior to his government service, Mr. McLarty was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Arkla, a Fortune 500 natural gas company. During his tenure Arkla grew into the nation’s largest natural gas distributor, with customers in eleven states and significant exploration and pipeline operation. This man can truly be considered successful.
During our research of him we found a quote from a former grade school teacher of his, who labeled him as, “Just a real nice boy who grew up into a real nice young man.” We asked if kindness contributed to his success and how important it is. He said kindness is incredibly important to success, not just in business but in every aspect of life. He described that as a business leader, it is important for kindness to be extended to all of his staff no matter what their contribution is. This was an idea that really resonated with me. I was thinking afterwards that you never know when you are going to need somebody, so it is best to have them on your good side. He talked about why he thought more business leaders don’t adopt the idea of kindness. Unfortunately people see kindness as a lack of strength and think they will be shamed or seen as a lesser person if they are kind. McLarty thought the opposite; he believed that it is easy to be rude and not acknowledge those around you. He believed real strength lies in those who are kind.
I asked him about the mentors and role models, who he believed inspired his career. He said how he had not one, but many mentors. He talked about how for some a role model may be a favorite celebrity or athlete, somebody who does not directly touch their life, but to him mentors are those who do the small things. He said while large contributions matter, it is the individual acts of kindness that make a difference. “It may be a parent, a teacher, a friend or somebody from history; if they impacted your life positively, then they are a mentor of yours.” This made me think of all those who have helped me throughout my life. My parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, and friends have all helped me with small, random acts of kindness. These people are my mentors.
The first few words that come to mind concerning businessmen are not positive, including exploitative, corrupt, and unethical. Thomas “Mack” McLarty was a refreshing exception to this perpetuated and perhaps clichéd stereotype. When the esteemed Chairman and Cofounder of McLarty Associates walked in, we were not just high school students interviewing a businessman; he brought us up to his level: we were all equals. He was gracious and composed and his southern drawl permeated the room. As he greeted us and made an introductory statement, his intentions became clear. He was the humble childhood friend of Bill Clinton, and partly because this connection was made the, now former, Chief of Staff. As a child growing up in Hope, Arkansas, he was the class president, and he made it clear that his parents were his most influential role models, and he had not strayed from the values of humbleness and integrity that he was imbued with.
When we asked questions, he listened intently, looking at us with his kind eyes. It was obvious that he cared about answering in a way that he hoped would give us a broader perspective and inform our futures. What was most impressive was his ability to recall other people’s names and questions. He must have a very powerful and analytical mind, and I feel like I can only dream of being that well spoken. He also had a very intimate and full grasp of history, as it related to the Clinton Administration and the jobs he occupied in and out of politics.
He agreed to meet with us because Alyse Nelson, whom we interviewed previously, recommended us to him. Thankfully he accepted because such a well-rounded history lesson from someone entrenched in the time was a rare opportunity.
What I found most interesting was when he talked about the business opportunities of today as it relates to the youth. He made it clear that we had a chance no matter what business we were going into because of the way technology has made ideas borderless, but also that for that reason it would be harder. “No one has a monopoly over wisdom,” he said, and we should be entirely confident in our ideas, but not be condescending, and maintain respect for more experienced businessmen, who can be learned from and may be wiser.
He also elaborated on the key characteristics of an ideal businessperson: confidence, resilience, being willing to take chances, and most importantly learning from others’ and one’s own mistakes. There will be setbacks, he said. Hopefully they are learning opportunities.
As the interview came to a close he emphasized the value of being responsible for your mistakes. I was just so blown away by his kind-hearted genuine nature, and the values that he held all his life that defied corruption and the corporate stigma. I hope to meet more people like him as this trip and my life progress.
Thomas “Mack” McLarty was by far one of my favorite interviews; with his southern charm and humble demeanor, he could sway anyone into his liking. He talked fairly slowly but with conviction in his words. After each and every word I found myself enthralled at what he had to say. First of all, Mr. McLarty is a prominent Arkansas businessman and former Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton.
With this range of experiences he was able to speak of his strong connections to Bill Clinton, and inform those who may be interested in business about what comes along with the profession. It was specifically his business prospects that brought my attention to this man. He knows how to run a business! As someone who is looking to follow his career path, I thought that there was much to learn from Mr. McLarty.
Along with this he has known Mr. Clinton from kindergarten and happily reminisced in the storytelling of the experiences they shared. Mr. McLarty’s tenured relationship with the former President is what also made him so special. After all, when else can you speak to an individual with such a strong and special bond? Although, with how things have been going, I would not be surprised to meet many more incredible, unique, important, and interesting individuals.
Interviews with Alyse Nelson and Kakenya Ntaiya at Vital Voices