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Days 3 & 4 – An Amazing Two Days

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To say the least, the past couple of days have been jam-packed with some of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in my short life.

We began on Monday morning with a breakfast presentation by former Chief Judge Robert Henry of the U.S Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Judge Henry, an accomplished educator and legal expert, spoke about the importance of the judicial branch and the importance of interpreting the constitution correctly. We then traveled to the Kennedy Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Building, where Secretary of the Senate Julie Adams and Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough both spoke to us about their roles as nonpartisan administrators in the U.S Senate. Secretary Adams offered sound advice about our aspiring political and legal careers, while Ms. MacDonough described her duties and the secluded nature of her job. They offered interesting perspectives on controversial Senate procedures such as the filibuster and explained the 24-hour news cycle’s impact on Senate procedures and rules.

Following a lunch with the Senate Historian, who spoke in length about leadership in the Senate and exemplary Senators who exhibited this leadership, we departed for the highlight of the day: a visit to the Supreme Court to visit Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

I’ve admired Justice Ginsburg for an incredibly long time. To a political and legal nerd like me, she is the foremost advocate for progressive legal theories and has written some of the most inspiring dissents in the Court’s history. So when I discovered that she would be addressing our group, I was very, very, excited.

After a wait seemingly lasted dozens of hours, my heart skipped a beat when I saw Justice Ginsburg walk past me as she went up to the front of the room. There were so many questions, thoughts and concerns running through my mind, but eventually I settled down and listened to hear speak at length about the legacy of the Supreme Court’s prior Chief Justices. It was a humbling and once-in-a-lifetime experience to receive a Supreme Court history lesson for a Justice.

Justice Ginbsurg then answered several questions, including ones about her love for opera and one about her love for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. She spent approximately 40 minutes with us, but to me it definitely seemed to have passed by way more quickly. This encounter, along with a tour of the Supreme Court soon after, has rekindled my passion for constitutional history/law and see what I can do to help others with it.

The day wasn’t over yet! We came back to the Mayflower Hotel and prepared for dinner, which so far has consistently been the best mean of day. The Hearst Foundation is generous enough to pay for our gourmet cuisine tastes in addition to our lengthy travel experiences. At the Mayflower, we listed to an alumnus, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, speak about his experience in the USSYP and how exactly it had inspired him to pursue politics and public policy. He was extremely well-spoken and charismatic. Though he avoided direct answers very often, he exhibited a skillful acumen for shaping words and delivering them appropriately. Finally, we listened to the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps play music dating back to George Washington’s time.

On Tuesday, we kicked things off bright and early at 6 AM and departed for Greenbelt, MD and NASA’s Goddard Space Center. Although this is a political conference, I was pleasantly surprised by the opportunity to engage with STEM fields and learn more about scientific policy.

Our next stop was at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This was perhaps the most anticipated visit of the week. After layers of security, we were ushered through the wide doors of the East Wing of the White House to wait in line. We were eventually led into the East Room and waited for approximately 30 minutes before President Obama turned the corner and walked directly toward us. There were immediately gasps and sighs. Some delegates were even crying. He quickly took a picture with us and then answered several questions about his accomplishments in office and gave us great advice about potential careers in public service. Many of the adults in the room later remarked that he had spent more time answering our questions than he had ever spent with any youth group before, and that was telling in the measured, thoughtful way in which he answered every single question. We all left the White House that day changed in some manner; I’m definitely going to remember it for years to come.

The day wasn’t quite over yet! We then went over to the National Archives after it closed to the public, and were given exclusive tours of our country’s “Charters of Freedom” and led to dinner in the Rotunda, where both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are kept. It was in front of the Constitution that Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii spoke to all of the delegates about her own experiences in government and her policy stances on various issues. This event, combined with an earlier Q&A session with the national archivist, Daniel Ferriero, completed our busiest day yet.

Check out my blog post from Day 2:

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Days 3 & 4 – An Amazing Two Days