Our first journey to Washington, D.C. was in 1989, twenty-seven years ago. That year we had around ten interviews set up, and no clear idea exactly what the trip would produce.
Among those we interviewed that year were Senator Alan Simpson, Senator William Fulbright, Congressman Leon Panetta and my father, Congressman William S. Mailliard, who was retired by then. Part of the inspiration for taking this journey was that I wanted my students to see what the government looked like to me when I was their age. I never could reconcile what I saw firsthand during my father’s time in office with what was represented in the newspapers. I wanted my students to see the human beings behind the headlines and to gain some understanding of the work that goes on in the nation’s capital.
Since then we have interviewed cabinet secretaries, a member of the Supreme Court, the head of the World Bank, State Department icons, and a few lucky students even met the President. We’ve also met incredibly hard-working staff members and non-government organizational leaders who are making a profound difference in the world.
I think in general several things come out of this journey. The students learn, that with adequate preparation and hard work they are able to have meaningful conversations with world leaders. They learn that by asking open questions, and respectful question, they can better understand the complex issues that face our society. They learn that how you present yourself matters, and that sacrificing personal comfort for the sake of a group goal can pay big dividends. They also learn that when things don’t turn out the way we plan, to stay positive. And, finally I have seen many of them learn that saying, “yes” to opportunities, even when it’s not convenient or when you are tired, can produce extraordinary experiences.
Personally, I look for moments where the group reaches beyond what they thought they could do to discover something new in themselves that they did not know. Of course, none of this is in my control. It is entirely within each individual student and they create their experience by the way they decide to show up.
We provide guidance, opportunity, and context. The rest is up to them. Over and over again, I hear from the students that they learn that preparation matters and that writing in their journals, and for the blog, enriches their experience and gives them something to look back on in later years. And one thing, sadly, that they usually learn too late is to break in your shoes before the trip. We do a lot of walking. But we’re prepared for that too with Band-Aids and moleskins. Some things never change.
We invite you to follow this year’s learning journey and be part of the adventure.
-Ward Mailliard, Project Leader
On May 14th we will depart on our Learning Journey to Washington, D.C. While we have spent the last several months learning about current events, studying how our government is structured and researching individuals that we will interview, we can never truly prepare for what we are about to experience. In Washington D.C. the theoretical and intangible will become real. Ward and I can share stories about past trips, we can bring alumni in to give advice, and we can have students read transcripts from past interviews but the true learning begins the moment we step into the experience.
We invite you to follow us on this adventure through our blog. Nothing can convey the true power of our experiences better than the words of those who are on this journey.
-Shannon Kelly, Values in World Thought Co-Teacher
As someone who knew only the bare minimum about what goes on in the government, it was hard for me to begin the process of preparing for Washington D.C. However, as I learned more I became curious. Learning about people like Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who was once interviewed on a surfboard in the middle of the ocean, and Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who is a honeybee supporter and bicycle evangelist, made me become interested in topics I never thought I would be. This newfound passion has helped me write questions that are meaningful to me.
A common question that keeps coming up for me is how individuals are able to make their voices heard and in turn accomplish the things that they want to. As someone who has been shy and reserved for the majority of my life, this is a skill I want to improve on. I hope to learn something special from each of the people we interview. I plan on taking the things I experience on this trip with me to college and into the real world.
If someone had told me at the beginning of the year that I would be this excited for the Washington D.C. trip, I would have laughed. It just seemed like so much work. Don’t get me wrong, it has been a lot of work but despite the amount of research and question writing we have done, I can’t put into words how excited I am.
Learning about the work people like Alyse Nelson and Ray Suarez do, and the impact people like Melanne Verveer and Congressman John Lewis make, has made it easy to find something I’m curious about and form it into a question. Not only have I enjoyed the experience so far, I have also learned so much from it already. I have learned that the first page of a Google search does not constitute research and that asking a question you are genuinely curious about makes all the difference.
Of course, when I think about our upcoming trip I am nervous about speaking in front of various politicians, but then I think about this amazing experience that I get to have and how lucky and grateful I am to be a part of it.