Days 6 & 7 – My Final Two Days

Thursday morning began with breakfast with the Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz. Secretary Moniz recently gained a lot of attention for playing a key role in clinching the Iranian nuclear deal. His work with Secretary John Kerry was praised highly when the deal was revealed this past summer. Since then, he is seen as a prominent advocate for nuclear non-proliferation.

Secretary Moniz spoke about his career in public service, which he prefaced by noting that public service is a broad term that encompasses local governmental roles as well, not just high-ranking government positions. He then described his pathway to public service and general career. He also spoke about the Department of Energy’s functions (summarized in weapons, windmills, quarks, and quagmires) and even answered my question about how the United States could ensure nuclear non-proliferation! (He said that the U.S and Russia had the greatest responsibility to lead the nonproliferation effort)

After his speech, we boarded our buses and stopped by the FDR Memorial on our way to the Capitol. After a few pictures, we went to the Hart Senate Office Building, where we heard both Administrator Charles Bolden of NASA and Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee speak. I asked Senator Alexander about his work with the Every Student Succeeds Act, the significance of which he described and emphasized. When our lunch here had ended, we toured the Capitol Building, and happened to run into Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he was doing the same! That was a pretty exciting moment for all of us.

Day 6 ended with dinner on the terrace of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and tickets to a concert featuring the National Symphony Orchestra. I particularly enjoyed Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2. It was an amazing way to end an amazing day.

Our bittersweet last day began with a breakfast with Brian Lamb, the Executive Chairman and CEO of C-SPAN. Mr. Lamb took most of the morning to interview individual delegates while the C-SPAN network captured the entire event. (I made a cameo sometime near the end!) After that, we traveled to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to lay a wreath and silently observe the changing of the guard. It was my second time at this memorial, but it was just as impactful to see the tradition and commitment that the military guards carried as they ceremoniously watched the tomb.

We then traveled to the Department of State, where we were received by John Kirby, the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, in the Benjamin Franklin Diplomatic Dining Room. This amazing luncheon featured exquisite meals and and stimulating conversations with several members of the State Department. Assistant Secretary Kirby answered questions about the Department of State as well his job as the department’s chief public affairs officer. We concluded this trip with a tour of the official diplomatic recieving rooms, each with a distinct history of its own.

On our final trip back to the hotel, we stopped by the Lincoln and Vietnam Memorials to snap a few pictures. It was meaningful to reflect on both memorials’ legacies and their impact going forward. Finally, the day ended with a small farewell ceremony in the hotel ballroom, where everyone exchanged contact information and promised to stay in touch.

This marked the end of my life-changing week in Washington D.C. Through interactions with our country’s history and high-ranking public officials, I renewed my interest in public service and gained a deeper appreciation for public life and committment. This week-long, behind-the-scenes tour of our government’s inner machinations showed me that people do care about our country’s future, and that the first step is identifying something I care about. I also met dozens of intelligent, thoughtful, and equally committed peers who showed me that I’m in good company going forward. The contacts I made and the experiences I had will shape me for years to come. I can’t thank the Hearst Foundation enough for sponsoring this entire week and providing this experience. I’m looking forward to bringing it all back to St. Benedict’s and my community!