Washington, D.C. 2008 Conclusion

The Capital Building
The Capital Building

The Values interview trip to Washington DC in May of 2008 was one of the most exciting in the history of our program which goes back to 1989.

Here the students told the story as it unfolded and it give some idea of the excitement and discovery that were a daily part of the experience.

We take this unusual journey to the nations capital every other year. By good fortune, hard work and many friends we have been granted unusual access to the halls of government. Over the past almost 20 years we have be developing our program that allows our students to engage with a diverse group of thoughtful and dedicated people, both inside and outside of government. We have been able to sit and speak with such iconic leaders as Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, presidential candidate Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. former House Speaker John Foley, and former Secretary of State, George Shultz. We have also interviewed dynamic young leaders such as Alyse Nelson, President of Vital Voices, an nongovernment organization empowering women around the world. Layli Miller Muro of the Tahiri Justice Center who is working to combat gender crimes around the world, Maria Pacheco, a social business entrepreneur, who is inspiring womens’ business collectives in Guatemala These extraordinary people who operate outside government are making enormous contributions to the betterment of our world.

We learn from this diverse group about vision, courage, perseverance, hope, and most importantly about ourselves and our own quest for meaning. We hope you will take time to look at the blogs and read some of the interviews with this very dynamic group of leaders from a wide variety of jobs and points of view. Our next trip will be in 2010 to see how things have change in Washington DC as a result of our recent shift in leadership.

About the Program

Values In World Thought Tour

We began the Mount Madonna School Government in Action program in 1989 to provide our students with a personal understanding of government and a more accurate picture of those who devote their lives to a broad range of public service activities. Over the years this program has produced remarkable results far beyond anything we initially envisioned. To quote one student,

Layli Miller-Muro
Layli Miller-Muro

“I feel I have just fallen in love with the possibilities of my future and my newly discovered faith in myself.” Belle Potter – Junior

Today our program has evolved into an even deeper inquiry into the values that inspire a life of service. We have retitled the program, The Values in World Thought Tour to connect it more closely with our unique twoyear “values” dialogue for juniors and seniors at Mount Madonna School. More recently our students have traveled internationally to interview leaders in other parts of the world. Last year as part of a joint project with the Dalai Lama Foundation, we traveled to India to interview the Dalai Lama, the President of India and American Ambassador David Mulford. This journey will be the subject of a documentary to be released this summer. Even more recently a group traveled to Ecuador to spend time in the Amazon Rainforest to learn first hand about the issues facing that region.

On alternate years we come to Washington, D.C. where we have been fortunate enough to attract some of our nation’s finest public servants. We look for those who are vitally involved in trying to improve the quality of life in our nation and around the world. Interviews usually last 45 minutes to an hour. The students come prepared to ask thoughtful and stimulating questions. We are most interested in understanding why people have chosen a life of public service and to discover what they have learned along the way that might be helpful to those just setting out on their journey. Whenever possible, we videotape our conversations so they can be shared with other students through DVD’s and our student generated web site. Currently we are working on a new curriculum titled, Exploring a Life of Meaning that will include many of our interviews.

This experience has become an important a rite of passage for our students; something they eagerly look forward to as a part of becoming responsible adults in their community. Most importantly it changes forever the way they look at public service. As each year unfolds we are discovering new opportunities to broaden the scope and impact of this program. This year, we have a wonderful group of 21 juniors and seniors who will participate. We will be uploading stories every day to a student run blog, and to a web site sponsored by our local newspaper. In 2006 to everyone’s surprise we had more than 5000 visitors to the website during our journey. Please visit http://www.mountmadonnaschool.org/gov06 to see what the students have accomplished on earlier journeys. If you are interested in seeing the Dalai Lama project you can go t ohttp://www.projecthappiness.com and click on “Watch the Trailer”.



Past Participants

Federal Government

  • Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor
  • White House Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta
  • National Security Advisor, Steven Hadley
  • White House Chief Exec. Usher, Gary Walters
  • White House, Director of the Executive Residence, Admiral Stephen Rochon
  • White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry
  • First Lady’s Chief of Staff, Melanne Verveer
  • Director White House Visitors Office Melinda Bates
  • Deputy Chief of Staff to VP Dick Cheney Dean McGrath
  • Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbit
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala
  • Deputy Secretary of Education, Marshal Smith
  • Under Secretary of the Navy, Carolyn Becraft
  • Former Secretary of State George Shultz
  • Deputy Secretary of State, Robert Zoellick
  • Deputy Secretary of State, John Negroponte
  • Under Secretary of State, Thomas Pickering
  • Under Secretary of State, Marc Grossman
  • Under Secretary of State, Paula Dobriansky
  • Executive Assistant to Secretary of State Powell, Craig Kelley
  • Ambassador Pifer
  • Ambassador Barbara Bodine
  • US Ambassador to India, David C. Mulford
  • Senator Alan Simpson
  • Senator Diane Feinstein
  • Senator Craig Thomas
  • Senator Barbara Boxer
  • Former Senator William Fulbright
  • Senator and Governor Pete Wilson
  • Former Speaker of the House, Congressman Tom Foley
  • House Speaker, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi
  • Former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt
  • Congressman John Dingel
  • Congressman Adam Putnam
  • Congresswoman Ann Eshoo
  • Congressman Sam Farr
  • Congressman Dennis Kucinich
  • Congressman John Lewis
  • Congressman Norman Minetta
  • Congresswoman Connie Morella
  • Congressman Barney Frank
  • Congressman Sensenbrenner
  • Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren
  • Congressman William S. Mailliard
  • Congressman Anthony Weiner
  • Congresswoman Barbara Lee
  • Congressman Ron Paul
  • Congresswoman Debbie WassermanShultz
  • Congresswoman Jackie Speier
  • Congressman Jim McDermott

Non-Government Leaders

  • President of Vital Voices Alyse Nelson Bloom
  • Founder Justice Department’s Violence Against Women’s Office, Bonnie Campbell
  • U.S. Representative to the World Bank, Jan Piercy
  • General Council to the Peace Corps, Nancy Hendry
  • Layli Miller Muro – Founder of the Tahiri Justice Center


  • Wall Street Journal, Al Hunt
  • Crossfire, Bill Press
  • Leher News Hour Correspondent Ray Suarez
  • Washington Post columnist David Ignatius
  • Eilene O’Conor, President of International Center for Journalist
  • Joe Seigle, Council on Foreign Relations
  • Tom Honig, Editor Santa Cruz Sentinel

Leaders of Other Fields

  • His Holiness The XIV Dalai Lama
  • Abdul Kalam – President of India
  • Bill Moyers – Journalist
  • George Lucas – Film Maker
  • Richard Gere Actor
  • Fritjof Capra Scientist, Author
  • Ernesto Cortes – Community Organizer
  • Angeles Arrien Anthropologist, Author
  • Margaret Wheatley, Organizational Development, Author
  • Peter Block, Organizational Development, Author
  • Sobonfu Some, Indigenous Wisdom, Author
  • Jim Whittaker, 1st American on Mt. Everest
  • Nirmala Deshpande, Gandhian Member of Raja Sabha (Uppoer House of Indian Parliament)
  • Vivian Wright, Strategic Planner Heweltt Packard
  • Ed Koch Fmr. Mayor of New York
  • Prof. Michale Sandel – Political Philosopher, Harvard
  • Sara Lawrence Lightfoot – Educator, Harvard
  • Professor Tu Weiming – Confucian Scholar, Harvard
  • Jacob Needleman – Philosopher
  • Farida Azizi – Human Rights Activist, Afganishtan

For information please contact:
Ward Mailliard
Phone: 4088478832
Project Leader Email: [email protected]

Day Eleven: Inspired

Congressman John Lewis

Congressman John Lewis

Disclaimer: I can’t give justice to how amazing this man is; you will just have to meet him yourself.

What do you say to the man who, when in his early twenties walked across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in a nonviolent march during the civil rights movement, was almost beaten to death, and never once gave up his beliefs in peace and nonviolence? “I am very pleased to meet you” just doesn’t seem to cover it.

Congressman John Lewis is a powerful man who’s every word rang with history, faith, and conviction. He told us “For me, the philosophy of nonviolence is not a tactic, but a deep value that affects the way I live.” It is with this value that he walked across that bridge in Alabama March 7, 1965, and it is this value that he brings with him to Congress. He believes in peace and that, “If we can teach our children to put people down because of race, religion, or gender, we can also teach them the way of peace.” A man of great faith and family roots, he told us stories of growing up and the power of prayer and community. He told us about raising his chickens, getting up in the morning to feed them, naming them, talking to them, and preaching to them. He even said that he wished half the people in Congress listened as well as his chickens did! We all got a great laugh with him on that.

I don’t think I have ever been more inspired to go out and fight for something, anything, in hopes of making a difference, and this can all be blamed on Congressman Lewis. He gave the right advice to the most willing ears when he said, “It’s time for you to get in ‘trubba.’” He emphasized this pronunciation with a twinkle in his eye. He said that it should be the “good and necessary kind of trubba.”

Congressman John Lewis and Students

Congressman John Lewis told us how he disobeyed his mother and got in involved; got into “trubba”, but it was the “trubba” that lead the civil rights movement. He advised us to “agitate for what is right” and that there comes a time when “somebody, some place has to speak up.” And now is our chance to speak up. We have no reason not to. We have every capability, right, and obligation to get into that “good and necessary trubba”. “Right now as a nation, as a people we are too quiet. We need to stand up and make some noise.”

Thank you, Congressman John Lewis. I do believe we are ready to go and make some noise now.

-Ashley England

Congressman John Lewis Video

Congressman Ron Paul

I was nervous about this interview. Aaron and I were the ones who first wrote and called Ron Paul’s office to request an interview. Now, our efforts, along with those of our teacher and Tom Tucker in Congressman Farr’s office had paid off. Nonetheless, we felt it was our tails that were cooked if this interview was anything less than great. I didn’t know what to expect and as soon as Congressman Paul came into the room, the unexpected happened.

He walked into the room and his presence was different than any other person we had met so far. Usually when people walk into a room, you get a feeling, a feeling in your gut about who this person is and what kind of energy they give off. When Congressman Paul walked into the room, I couldn’t pinpoint how I felt exactly. He had something powerful about him like when Former Secretary of State George Shultz walked into the room, but at the same time this power that was joined by a certain humility and naturalness that made him seem approachable.

As he sat down with us we introduced ourselves, explained why we were there and what we were doing and then gave him the chance to talk. All of a sudden, he stood up and began to talk. He spoke with such passion and intensity that I knew that every word out of his mouth held tremendous meaning and importance for him. He burned through question after question with heartfelt answers. It was clear to me that this was a man who felt so strongly about his ideas that he stood throughout the entire interview! This is part of what was so powerful to me about this man. Here was a person who had so much to convey to us and with such vigor, that it was impossible for him to sit. For a half an hour he spoke with sincerity, fervor, honesty and respect. I found a similarity between Ron Paul and Ralph Nader. Both men challenge and question our government in a passionate manner, although Nader does so with a more subdued style.

Congressman Paul talked a lot about the right of the people, focusing on how government has become overdeveloped, too big, and too powerful. Sitting there with this man and listening to him speak so passionately about so many different ideas, I couldn’t help but consider them myself. He spoke of things I didn’t even think about before I met him. This interview with Congressman Paul made me look at our government in a whole new light. He walked out of the room the same way that he came in, with a quiet kind of indefinable power, and the interview was over. Though his entrance and exit baffled me, during the interview I felt exactly what this man was all about. He was a man who stood for his beliefs when he talked and believes passionately in all that he talks about. He’s a man that wants to change the world.

-Naveen Hattis

Day Ten: The Courage to Speak

Congressman Dennis Kucinich

Congressman Kucinich

The first time we met Congressman Kucinich was last year when we were still juniors. It was on our way home from the rafting trip when suddenly our teacher Mr. Mailliard received a call. Congressman Kucinich was in Santa Cruz and was inviting us to speak with him. As soon as the vans stopped, we were running to change. We had less than two hours to go home, shower away the river, dress up, and be out the door and on our way to the interview. It was hectic, but well worth it. Today we got to meet him again, but in a much different setting.

One of the defining themes he left with us today was the power of language and truth. He told us that miscommunication was one of the easiest ways to disrespect each other. “Language. Watch what you say. Words start wars.” He used the example of Washington DC by saying that it “holds the Olympics for derogatory speech.” When we’re careless about our language, we spread misunderstandings that lead to distrust and unhealthy relationships. “Tell the truth to yourself. Good citizens exemplify truth.” This was an easy concept to grasp because we are at a stage in our lives where we are beginning to form new relationships. Some of us have learned the hard way that a simple lie, even to yourself, can destroy a relationship from the inside out. Lies create an illusion, and relationships collapse under such conditions. Congressman Kucinich emphasized that telling the truth was not only an important value for oneself but an important value for our country. It takes people to tell the truth as they see it, difficult though it can be, for us to be able to improve ourselves and bring peace into our lives. Congressman Kucinich spoke poetically of a single world where war did not belong. To be able to spread peace, we must first find peace within our own hearts; peace begins with truth. “You cannot advocate peace unless you have it in your own heart.”

Congressman Kucinich spoke with such sincerity and warmth. He looked directly into your eyes when responding to questions. He had a gravitational pull that drew us in from the beginning to the end of the interview. You could feel the passion that he held for his ideals and for his fellow humans. His drive for truth and passion for peace made him an impressive figure that we all admired. If he runs for president in 2012, he has our vote!

-Rachel Sunberg, Ashleigh England, and Leah Nascimento

Ralph Nader

There are many names I’ve heard throughout my life that I can’t put faces to. My parents tend to discuss politics at the dinner table, I often heard the name Ralph Nader come up in their conversations. Today, I was able to put a face to the name.

Ralph Nader sat before us, speaking eloquently as he answered our questions with a calm ease. Then suddenly, he shifted this position and leaned forward, eyebrows raised.

“How many plan on being leaders?”

Five raised their hands

“And how many plan to be followers?”

No one raised their hand.

I thought to myself, “ I need to decide which I wanted to be, a leader or a follower.”

Ralph Nader is a force to be reckoned with. When we asked why he does what he does, he replied, “I like justice.” His statement was plain and simple. But don’t begin to think that he is simple-minded. Far from it! In fact, after the interview we were talking with one of the young people on Nader’s support teams, and he explained to us that the term “bandwidth is how fast the internet can carry information back and forth and how much information it can carry. He said that Ralph Nader, in computer talk, has the largest bandwidth of anyone that I have ever met.” During our hour and a half interview he relayed an incredible amount of knowledge. I was impressed with his ability to look at our country and recognize what was broken and develop solutions to fix it. He asked us, “What do you want knowledge for?” And when there was a silence in the room, he looked straight into our eyes and said, “Use it to make action.”

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is not the type of person to talk about what he wants and then let it go, when he has strong feelings about something he takes action to influence change. He said, “You always have to ask what is happening to us. Don’t just go with the flow. You must be a contemplative generation.” And he is certainly a man who lives by his advice. Did you know that Ralph Nader is the reason that we have mandatory seatbelts and airbags in cars now? Nader fought for environmental issues, child labor laws, and corporate responsibilities; these are issues that affect each and every one of us.

Thanks to Ralph Nader, I now feel equipped to begin my journey towards becoming a leader, one that won’t say, “oh well” when something isn’t right. I will take Ralph Nader’s advice of, “Put a fire in your belly.” A burning passion that will drive me to be a citizen who will fight, even if it means being defeated and trampled upon by the majority.

-Bodhi Schaffer and Hannah Meade

Ralph Nader Video

Day Nine: The Seventh Floor

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Group (Photo by Margaret Ann Thomas)

I woke up this morning, noted the breaking clouds through the window above my head and then remembered where I was. I was in Washington DC, and today was the day when we were going to interview the DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE! I bolted upright and immediately began to prepare myself for the interview to come.

It was all very surreal leading up to the interview. We walked up to the massive building that houses the Department of State. Flags above us were waving gloriously in the wind. We all had to clear through security and then met with Public and Intergovernmental liaison Bureau of Public Affairs, Eileen McCormack , who took us up to the legendary Seventh Floor.

Leaving the State Department

None of us were sure of what to expect when we walked through the elevator doors. One thing we saw immediately was that the décor was hands down ten times more beautiful than that of the ground level. I found myself face to face with the portrait of none other than George Shultz, a brilliant man we interviewed not even a month ago. I felt a bit more at home knowing he was there at least in spirit. As we were waiting, we talked with Eileen who gave us a brief history of her years spent in the building. Then the doors of the Deputy Secretary’s conference room opened and out stepped many Indonesian statesmen and a tall sharply dressed American, John Negroponte the number two person at the State Department, second only to the Secretary, Condoleezza Rice. Mr. Negroponte exudes a physical sense of control and power. I was star-struck and watching him with the delegation it was clear that he was a confident and experienced diplomat.

Emotions were running high as we prepared to face what we expected to be one of the most challenging interviews of the whole trip. Both elated and nervous, we entered his paneled conference room, not sure what we were about to face. What we discovered was an intellectual, thoughtful, humorous and articulate man that is not only dedicated to his job in public service, but someone that is proud to represent his country. He told us “Be proud of the American example,” and that “you represent a great country.” It is impossible to not feel patriotic when you are sitting and taking to the Deputy Secretary of State. It is like one of those moments when you suddenly stop, look up, and there, with the blue sky and rolling white clouds in the background, waves the American flag in the afternoon breeze. It’s priceless.

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte

Born to Greek parents in London, Negroponte studied abroad and is a man of many languages. In the interview he told us that there is “no better way to learn about a culture than to learn its language.” This is advice that we have now received from multiple people and makes me think that there might be something to this whole language business. It also makes me wish I still knew my German. He reminded us that we are only 4% of the world’s population and that China and India are rising powers that will be a reality for us now and in the future. Knowing foreign languages opens us up to other cultures and will enable us to operate in the future society.

View from the Lincoln Memorial

Another moment in the interview that was interesting was when Hannah asked the Deputy Secretary if he had been influenced in his thinking and decision making by living in other countries. He paused and said, “I have not really thought about it.” He then proceeded to tell us in eloquent terms, about the “Pacific Way,” which was a way that in the northwest they talked out issues until an agreement was reached. He said it was better than a close vote where so many would be waiting for a policy to fail. I love watching his brilliant mind do a quick search and then come up with a new answer that was so complete as if he knew it all along.

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte

As we were winding down from one of the best interviews we had yet done, we came to the last question for the day. After all the advice he had already given us, was there one thing that he wanted us to take away that could help us in our own futures? With a smile, he told us “Hard Work.” There is no effortless way to achieve greatness, and “as long as you work hard,” he told, “people will recognize you for that.” And so, as we continue our journey in DC, I think we’ll do great things as long as we work hard!

-Ashley England, Hannah Meade and Chris Fust

Day Six: Committed Action

Layli Miller-Muro

Layli Miller-Muro
Layli Miller-Muro

Layli Miller-Muro is a lawyer. She founded the Tahirih Justice Center, a non- profit organization dedicated to providing legal aid to women around the world who are in serious and dangerous situations. When she was still a law student, she took on a case that may have changed the course of her life defending Fauziya Kassindja, a seventeen year old girl seeking asylum from female genital mutilation (F.G.M.) in her home country. She was assigned the case, because earlier she had written a paper regarding whether or not F.G.M. could be the basis for asylum. It is amazing that Layli while still a student pioneered a change in asylum laws to include gender based persecution. But you would never find out from her. A modest woman, she does not boast about the wonderful things she has accomplished for woman’s rights. She believes, “you will be very disappointed and you will also burn out very quickly if you’re working to be recognized.”

We asked her what was the original spark that motivated her to be so interested in issues of social justice. She responded that it came from growing up in Atlanta as a member of the Baha’i community. This provided Layli Miller-Muro many opportunities to develop relationships with kids from many different backgrounds. As she grew older, she began to notice a difference in the way people treated her compared to how they treated her friends of color. This realization, among others, was what sparked her passion for justice.

Layli Miller-Muro and the Students
Layli Miller-Muro and the Students

A woman of endless grace, she works tirelessly for her clients. She said that it is important not to impose her personal values onto her clients. It is not her place to convince them of what they should do or force her beliefs onto them. It is about helping them in any way she can to tackle the problems that they want to solve. She tries to maintain a balance of being passionately and emotionally committed while knowing her limits. She understands that she cannot change people; she can only encourage them to change themselves.

I can’t say I’m envious of her position because I doubt my ability to show up to such an emotionally straining job every morning, but I can voice my endless respect for her and her colleagues in the Tahirih Justice Center. They are making a critical difference in many women’s lives.

-Hannah Meade

Layli Miller-Muro: Founder of the Tahirih Justice Center

Friday Reflection
The trip is half over. Our journey is at the turning point and I have already hit a kind of euphoria beyond what I can really express. It is hard to imagine what the next week will have in store for us. Tomorrow we leave the city of Washington, DC that already seems like home and head to the countryside that is yet to be experienced.

Looking back on this past week, I cannot fully understand what has happened. It is beyond me, and far from anything I could put into prose. I apologize because this writing cannot do real justice to what I experienced. I imagine it is like a letter from a relative in a foreign country that you have never seen trying to describe the landscape. From the first interview with Alyse Nelson Bloom and Maria Pacheco I knew why I was here. These were amazing people that immediately pulled apart my flesh and bones and grasped my heart with their humility and kindness. At the Capitol building, we met Congressman Dreier who invited us into the Rules Committee. Once there, Congressman Hastings who sat on the committee was one of the most special people I have ever met. While we watched the Rules Committee debate, at times he was looking directly at me and we were visually interacting as the hearing went on. He was engaging with me across the room and without him even saying one word, the connection I felt was indescribable. He and all the other Members of the Committee, in the midst of a very vigorous debate would also employ humor as a way of defusing things, and I was finding myself in constant anticipation for every word that came out of their mouths. After the hearing, Congresswomen Slaughter, the Chairwoman invited us into her office and showed us, the students, a respect and hospitality that was truly surprising. Then on Thursday, Admiral Rochon, the Director of the Executive Residence of the White House spent far more time with us that I could have ever dreamed possible.

Traveling in D.C.
Traveling in D.C.

The most amazing thing that truly touched my heart was that all of them said they were honored to be with us. They said THEY were HONORED! Congresswomen Slaughter looked into my eyes and told me that we are the future and she wants to do anything she can to care for and help us. What can you say to that? What can you say to these people? Congressman Farr said something I probably will never forget. He said something along the lines that you see these passionate people in Iraq or wherever that believe so strongly in their cause that they are willing to kill themselves with bombs to do what they believe is right. They are so, so passionate. Well, these public servants feel this same passion but instead of using bombs, they use political debate and the ballot box to wage their war for what they believe in. These people care deeply about their causes, and to see this directly and to shake their hands and look them in their eyes, and for them to say, “God bless you. Thank you for coming to see me,” there is nothing that describes how that makes me feel. These people have affected all of me; mind, body and heart. They have impacted me with their respect, care and love. They love what they do and they love people and being with them. That comes through in a way that I never could have imagined.

-Naveen Hattis

Hillary Campaign Headquarters

Meeting With Members of Hillary Clinton's Campaign
Meeting With Members of Hillary Clinton's Campaign

Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Headquarters is run by a youthful passion. Getting off the subway at the Ballston- MU station, we found ourselves in front of a deserted looking building, but when we opened the door, we were greeted by a friendly looking receptionist and walls covered with enthusiastic letters to Hillary Clinton from elementary school children. Corley Kenna, Deputy Directory of Research, came to welcome us. She invited us on a tour of Clinton’s presidential campaign headquarters. The campaign headquarters looked like nothing more than a mismatched collegiate building, but we could feel the energy and professionalism coming from the people working in every room. We noticed that the majority of people working on the campaign were young people. We continually received curious looks and questions as we made our way to the fourth floor where we met with Corley and her colleagues, Isaac and Caroline. Isaac is a spokesperson for the campaign and Caroline works in the press office.

After each had introduced themselves, we split off into three groups to have a closer conversation; we were in the gro up with Corley. She told us that her family had always been involved in politics, her parents volunteered for several campaigns. She developed an interest in politics and studied in History and Political Science in college. Right out of college, she was offered an internship with Congressman John Lewis from her home-state of Georgia. From there she found her way to the Hillary Campaign. Her passion for politics came from one of her family’s “golden rules”; you’re not okay unless your neighbor is okay, so take care of your neighbor.

Corley, Caroline, and Isaac at Clinton Headquarters

On this trip, we have been interviewing people high in their professional fields. In each interview, their advice to us has been the same, follow your passion and dreams, don’t be afraid to fail, and if you try hard enough, you will succeed. Corley, Caroline, and Isaac embody this message. They are just starting beginning their political careers with a commitment to public service and a willingness to work hard for what they believe in. They helped us to realize that taking action isn’t something we should strive to do in our futures, we can begin taking action NOW.

-Alexa, Joanna, and Patricia

Day Five: Privileged!

Professor Akbar Ahmed

Professor Akbar Ahmed

As an American student, I know little about Islam. I’ve spent some time trying to educate myself but it was too complicated for me to understand. The past few years I’ve been stunned by how much Islam comes up in American politics, and why don’t I know more about this.

As we got off the bus at American University, I was pondering this very thought. Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, now a professor at American University, is considered the leading scholar on Islam. I was ready to learn.

Professor Ahmed came to our meeting with a lesson plan and went straight into a college level lecture. He made it clear that he wanted to educate us on Islam, he asked us to “keep scribbling” notes as he spoke. After bombarding us with statistics and explaining why our generation needs to know about Islam, he proceeded to draw parallels between the grassroots of American society and Muslim culture. Though I didn’t get to ask my question, I learned a lot from him. He reinforced that learning about Islam will be required in order to understand world culture in the coming future.

I had a deeper question I wished to have answered; why is it natural for many Indians to have contempt for Muslims? It wasn’t fair, but it wasn’t questioned in Indian culture. It seemed as though after the Partition of India in 1947 that a large group of nationalist Indians began to despise Islam.

The lecture ended and I began to gather my things, selfishly frustrated that my question hadn’t been answered. Then, in a flash, Ward pulled me into his post interview conversation with Professor Ahmed and asked me what I gained from the interview. I went straight into what I learned a lot about the importance of Islam, but that I wanted to learn the roots of the tension between Muslims and nationalist Indians. Before I finished my rapid rant, he stopped me and asked me if I was a Sikh. Beaming, I replied affirmatively, and without answering my question, he virtually read my mind and appeased me in one sentence.

“I have many Sikh friends, Jasbir, and like them, I know that a Sufi Muslim laid down the first tiles of your Golden Temple.” I left the room feeling completely lit by hope. Simply by linking cultures, we as a future generation can bridge the gap between social disagreements. It just takes the effort of research, friendliness, and open communication.

-Jasbir Nijor

Akbar Ahmed

Admiral Rochon

Admiral Rochon
Director of the Executive Residence
Chief Usher

Director of the Executive Residence and Chief Usher. Despite the intimidating title, Admiral Rochon must be the most down-to-earth man I’ve met on this trip so far. It is almost as if he isn’t aware of his important position in the White House.

Admiral Rochon began in the Coast Guard, during the latter days of the Vietnam conflict. He had only planned to stay in the military for a short while, but instead he found himself working his way up through the ranks. He told us that he has received a couple of very important phone calls during his lifetime. The first call was from the Commandant of the Coast Guard, just as he was preparing to retire from the military, asking him to become an Admiral in Cleveland. The second, from the White House, asking him to consider interviewing for the spot of Chief Usher at the White House.

Not once during our interview with him did he make it sound like he was taking credit for his current position. He is incredibly humble. Admiral Rochon made the statement “You don’t run away from your commitments.” He definitely seemed to be a true example of what he preaches.

As he walked us down the hallways of the White House, he made our country’s history come alive. A life devoted to public service, is a life built upon deep roots and values. Admiral Rochon made it very clear that he believes that we should NEVER compromise our integrity and that we should ALWAYS be fair and equitable. “Getting ahead” in a real sense would not be possible if we sacrificed any of those values.

We got to the core of his management style when he elegantly stated, “This house is made of limestone and sandstone, but it takes flesh and blood to run it.” It’s the same with our country. We are made of hills and valleys, deserts and lakes, but it takes the hands of the people to create a nation.

-Hannah Meade

Going to the White House! Just these words are enough to send chills of awe and anticipation down anyone’s spine. In our case, we were still trying to believe our luck when Admiral Rochon, Director of the Executive Residence and Chief Usher of the White House, walked through the East Wing doors and welcomed us. You have to understand, we had no past history or connection to Admiral Rochon so the possibility of an interview, let alone a private tour was farfetched until we were standing in front of him.

I don’t believe I have ever felt the love and pure admiration as I did today for our country’s history. Every chair, every mirror had a story. Admiral Rochon graciously took us through an extraordinary tour of the East Wing, entertaining us with “fun-facts” along the way. It was late in the day so all of the usual tours had finished and we were alone with the staff inside of the big White House on the hill. The Admiral would take down the long ropes that were blocking off rooms and we were allowed to sit carefully on chairs made in the 1800’s. He led us through room after room and history was made real to us. We saw a portrait of George Washington that Dolly Madison saved when the British set fire to the White House in 1814. We had a glimpse from outside the Map Room where President Franklin Roosevelt practically lived during World War II as he monitored military activities around the world. We stood on the front steps underneath the huge columns of the White House, the green lawn spreading out before us, and realized that this was our world, our history, our chance to experience a piece of national heritage, and this was only possible because of Admiral Rochon.

Admiral Rochon went far and beyond any of our expectations and we are forever indebted to him and his graciousness. This day will forever go down in our personal histories and may have even changed the course the future for some of us.

-Ashley England





The White House – Admiral Rochon’s Tour

Day Four: Making History


“The Whole World in Our Hands”
with Congressman Hastings (Florida)

Dearest reader, before you begin, we must explain that whatever we manage to write, couldn’t possibly even begin to begin to capture the experience we’ve had today.

We started off the day with a Starbucks run. Yesterday we learned that the earlier triple shot lattes got into our systems, the better we work. It was our fourth day in Washington, D.C. and we were beginning to get the swing of things. I was feeling less like a tourists in the bustling city of Washington, D.C. and more like a participant of the workforce dressed in ironed slacks and a crisp blouse. Honestly, I was beginning to feel a bit over confident. But by the time we arrived at Rayburn House Office Building, I was straining my neck looking up at the large shiny buildings that hosts the Members of Congress who make so many decisions that affect our nation. I once again felt like kids in a candy store.

-Hannah Meade

Congresswoman Jackie Speier

Congresswomen Jackie Speier

Our day began with a stimulating interview with Congresswoman Jackie Speier who just began her tenure in Congress in April after a special election to replace the iconic Tom Lantos who died while still in office. New to town and in the middle of voting, she managed to take the time to meet with our group. The scale of the Rayburn Congressional Offices was intimidating up until we got to Jackie Speier’s office. It just so happened to be her birthday and balloons and flowers were bursting out of her office and lightening up the marble hallways.

From the moment she sat down, she “blew us away” with her energy and spirit. She immediately impressed us as a good-hearted woman and from her history a model of perseverance and success. She started in politics when she was just 16 years old, working as an intern in Sacramento, which helped shap her passion for public service. Having faced more challenges then can seem possible in life, she told us the only way to achieve success is to “not be afraid of taking risks or worry about the possibility of failure”. She encouraged us to think about what we would do if we knew that we would never fail, and smiled when she saw all the possibilities open up in front of us. She reminded us that “failure is not fatal” and that “failing is a part of success.” I know that in many cases, the possibility of failing is daunting and can limit what people believe they can do. Hearing Congresswoman Speier who open up to us about many of her personal disappointments, helped me realize that failure isn’t a setback but a chance to try again. Seeing her before us, talking about Domestic policy and getting ready to shake the congressional world, I thought about the challenges she has faced and how it motivated her to be fearless. She told us that “you can’t be paralyzed by fear” and “if you have passion, go for it. Don’t take the easy way, always be authentic, and follow your gut.”

-Ashley England

Congressman Jim McDermott

Congressman Jim McDermott

Jim McDermott is a man of conviction. Broadly traveled, he has been to 80 different countries, and visited India on more than 20 different trips. He has made many friends through his travels in China and has spent time living in Africa. He emphasized the importance of travel and because it creates a deeper perspective. You can only really understand how lucky Americans are when you are outside America. He believes that the lack of knowledge about other cultures and their customs, cultures and governments is one of the root causes of conflict. The only way to amend this problem is to travel to these different places and discover how they function from a personal perspective. On top of that direct communication with people is the key to building relationships around the world. “Humans are social creatures and when our communication is blocked then we lose a portion of our humanity.” Jim McDermott is a wonderfully articulate man who communicated his point quickly and coherently. He is a family man who believes it is equally important to maintain healthy relations with family as well as his global community. He stated that every day that he leaves work; he devotes his time to his family. He is in Congress to make decisions that will benefit America and his family. What’s right for America is echoed in what’s right for his family. After the listening to the sentiments of Congressman McDermott, a busy politician, it stuck me how I sometimes take my own family for granted.

-Chris Fust

“Is this your tripod!” said a tall, heavy set security guard who stood in front of me at the entrance of Longworth. I turned back to the guard and timidly said “yes.” He began a thorough search of my bag. When he realized that the tripod was in fact just a tripod, he allowed me to enter the building. The ordeal put me significantly behind the rest of the group so I had to run to catch up. While the camera and tripod bounced off my legs as I ran, I thought, “What a great start to an interview.” When I walked into Congressman Jim McDermott’s office he was waiting for us to get started. He seemed impatient, like he was by obligation, his first remark was, “I’m only doing this because Congressman Farr asked me to.” Chris asked Congressman McDermott about a picture on his wall of Gandhi, I think that he was impressed with our spontaneous. He began to warm up to us.

Through the interview he shared his wisdom using examples of his own life and his travels to Africa and Latin America, he was curious and passionate about his work. He encouraged us to travel and learn other languages so that we do not continue the American trend of ignorance. “Once you have seen the 3rd world you can’t deny what it is.”

By the end of our time together it seemed we had earned at least some of Congressman McDermott’s attention. He showed sincere interest in answering all of our questions despite his very patient assistant who was anxious to get Congressman McDermott to his next appointment. He left us with one last piece of advice; follow your passion, do what you want in life and not what others want you to do. The few minuets that we had with McDermott opened my mind, and solidified what had been told to us in numerous ways and through many different sources. The message is to learn about other cultures and realize that despite having different languages, cultures and religions, we are all connected.

-Bodhi Shaffer

Dennis Moore – On the Steps of the Capitol

Mike Larson, Congresswomen Jackie Speier Scheduler

I was wishing I could have a chance casual conversation with some members of congress while we were on the steps of the Capitol Building. Amita and I were inspired by Jim McDermott’s advice to, “not wish you could do something, do it!” We summoned our courage and spoke to Dennis Moore from Kansas’s 3rd District. We approached him, not knowing who he was or what we would say to him. In the end, Ward had to drag us away from our conversation with a man clearly filled with passion and dedication to his job. As he spoke to us about the bills he sponsored regarding the soldiers in the Iraq war, he was swelling with emotion and it was obvious he really cared about what he was doing. When asked about his motivation, he pulled out his Blackberry and showed us a picture of his grandson. It was great to see someone with such dedication to public service with genuine motivations.

-Camille Schwartz

Unfortunately, our interview with Congressman Sam Farr was cut a bit short because he had to rush down to the floor of the House to vote. The buzzers started going off at 10 minutes before the vote and he left with less than 3 minutes. He delayed to the last second. I am sure he has it timed perfectly form long practice. However, for once “time was not everything” because even in those few short moments, he shared some really important points. He said, “Life is about empowering people”, and clearly this is how he engages with the world. His aim as a Congressman is to give his constituents the ability to say what they want from the government and make sure it happens. It was a boldly unselfish statement that really affected my heart. If we all lived just to empower others, we could create a world where everyone believes in themselves and their potential. A world where people know and reach for their capabilities is a beautiful idea where anything is possible. His other piece of advice that connected as first steps in creating a better world was to, “Find what’s broken so that you can fix it”. We must identify and pinpoint the issues so that we can work towards finding solutions. So, to change the world, we must first understand the importance of the individual and then as Sam told us, “give something back” by working towards fixing the broken pieces of society. And what was Congressman Farr’s advice for taking this on? “Just follow your hearts” because “you are all going to make it.” I felt empowered.

-Shelby and Shashi

“Uncle Sam”

The one two punch of Congressman Sam Farr and his very skillful scheduler Tom Tucker has opened many doors for the Mount Madonna students over the years. Sam’s trust in the students to engage in a meaningful way with his colleagues in the House is a trust that we cherish and protect. It is also an act of the “empowerment” that Sam talks about with the students. The access that they have earned and been granted in Washington, D.C. says that, yes they are worthy of the time of busy and important people, and that they are valued for who they are right now. Congressman Farr has conferred both a blessing and a challenge on these students. The blessing of access is the opportunity and the challenge is to live up to what he knows they can do. He is a mentor of the first rank.

I have also noticed Congressman Farr is liked or even loved by just about everyone we meet on Capitol Hill. I think it fair to say just about everyone who meets Congressman Farr gets the feeling that he cares personally about who they are and what they need, and that is because of the simple truth that he does! I think the Congress is a better more civil place because people like Congressman Farr are there. His authentic and caring personality and his deep commitment to providing for the basic needs of the people he serves, namely “a decent place to sleep, access to medical care and an education” seem to be at the core of everything he does. This may not make the evening news often, but it definitely helps the work of fixing what is broken in our society. I have come to refer to Congressman Farr affectionately as “Uncle Sam,” I think it fitting both in terms of the sense of family that has developed between Sam and my students and emblematic of the national icon of Uncle Sam who personifies the values of what make this a great country.

-Ward Mailliard

Congressman Sam Farr

Having finished our somewhat shorter that unusual, yet wonderful interview with Congressman Sam Farr, we exited the Longworth House Office Building and at our teachers suggestion headed up the street towards the Capitol. The interview had ended due to a call for a vote in the House. Mr. Mailliard explained that if we waited by the Capitol steps we could see most of the Members of Congress coming down the steps after the vote. We gathered at the steps, watched the heavily armed guards look at us with expressionless faces, and waited. Finally the members of Congress to pour down the front steps like I had seen in so many news reels.

They proceeded to travel in different directions like a colony of bees exiting their hive. We spotted Congressman John Lewis and decided to say hello. Congressman Lewis is man of amazingly charm. “I can’t wait to see you next week!” I was astonished at how easy it was for us to stop legislators and talk to them. It made me realize that these people weren’t superstars, they weren’t the same pundits we saw in the news, they are people who representing us. Congressman Ed Purlmutter of Colorado actually started to interview me! He asked what my values were, and I was almost too shocked to respond. After quickly reciting the three pillars of Mount Madonna School he continued to eat his Klondike and ask us about our Values program.

My conversation with him made me realize that this city wasn’t some sort of impenetrable fortress that all the security makes it out to be. The way to crack this city, is with courage, preparation, charm, and a little bit of luck.

-Jasbir Nijor

Working the steps of the Capitol building

Inside the Capitol Building

Congressmen Sam Farr and Mike Honda

When our favorite Congressman, Sam Farr came down the stairs we rushed up to greet him as if we had not just left him 40 minutes earlier. He was joined by Congressman Mike Honda and they told jokes and entertained us for a minute, then Congressman Farr in his wonderfully generous way said, “You want to go inside?”. After 20 minutes in the visitor’s gallery with Congressman Farr explaining the rules and process of the House it was time to go. As we were leaving Congressman Dreier of Southern California came up to talk with Sam and kindly invited to sit in on a meeting of the Rules Committee. As we came in, there was a moment when things stopped and we were introduced to the room as students from Congressman Farr’s district and our teacher Mr. Mailliard was introduced as the son of former Congressman W.S.Mailliard.

As if watching the debate was not special enough, Congresswoman Slaughter, the chair of the Rules Committee, took the time to explain the issues to us, something that I’ve been told is unprecedented in the history of the Committee; first our mere presence in the chamber, plus the most powerful committee members in the House addressing us- mere students! To be recognized was an honor. Then a very partisan argument began and a series of procedural votes took place right down party lines. They kept pointing to us and referencing the fact that our generation would have to pay the cost of the war.

By the end, an equal number of emotions rushed in to fill me; awe, excitement, inspiration, euphoria, honor, and did I mention awe? To see world leaders, not ten feet from me debating the types of issues we read about in the newspaper, speaking so eloquently and with such obvious intelligence, I was finally struck with the realization that these people are real. Seeing actual people, right there in front of me, I realized that government IS people.

In the Office of Congresswomen Louise Slaughter
(Chairwomen of the Rules Committee)

We thought that our day could not get any better, but it did. Congresswoman Slaughter invited us into the Rules Committee’s office. She spoke with us, speaking of how we, as students, held the future of the nation in our hands. Following our conversation with Congresswoman Slaughter, Congressman Dreier, who had blessed us with the invitation into the Committee Meeting, explained to us issues, such as the House Minority’s extreme difficulty in expressing itself in policy, and relayed to us a delightful story of his recent trip to Columbia. He was playful, charming and very obviously intelligent. He skillfully and patiently explained his ideas to us. Congressman Farr then took up on a private tour of the rotunda. Standing between the House and Senate, beneath the great dome, my feeling of awe topped out. Words cannot describe what it was like to look around, see hand-carved statues, meticulously crafted paintings adorning all of the walls, and the symbolism present in every last detail.

When our tour ended the group reconvened with Congressman Farr on the steps of the Capitol. We were freaking out, literally jumping for joy and hugging each other, energized by what we had just witnessed. Congressman Hastings of Florida, who had been present at the Rules Committee meeting, saw us on the steps and came over to join in our conversation with Congressman Farr. Congressman Hastings is a truly great person; funny, passionate, smart, graceful, witty, and everything I’d hope to see in a politician. He offered us advice, “learn a language.” He told us a comedic story of his mother’s own insistence that he do the same.

Words cannot do justice to the people we met, the things we say. No matter how much I’d like to describe how great all these people we met were, the only real way to find out is to meet them yourself. I’ve always been a skeptic about politics; in four hours, these wonderful people have not only restored my faith in both the system and humanity, but also made me seriously consider politics as a possible career for myself. Twelve years worth of forming my own opinions, suddenly challenged by four hours on Capitol Hill. Today was a truly inspiring and life-changing this experience.

-Andrew Whitaker

Capitol Glory: After leaving the Capitol building

Day Three: Good Day Sunshine

Dr. Carol Lancaster – Director, Mortara Center
School of Foreign Service:
Mortara Center

Dr. Carol Lancaster – Intelligence and Care

This morning the rainy weather let up and we were able to experience our first beautiful sunny day in Washington, D.C. We left the William Penn House and rushed five blocks to the metro station. At DuPont Circle we caught a shuttle bus to Georgetown University, where we held our first interview of the day. Associate Professor Carol Lancaster, Director of the Master’s of Science in Foreign Service program is widely known for her work on the board of the Center for Global Development. Our group wasn’t sure what to expect from our interview with Dr. Lancaster, but what we got was a person who is a wonderful example of taking opportunities and running with them. Dr. Lancaster made us feel right at home with her no-nonsense attitude and quick wit.

Dr. Lancaster stressed the importance of community, which is often lost our somtimes self-involved lives. We spend so much of our time striving to fulfill our own needs, that we fail to see the need of others. She said, “why do we worry so much about what second car to buy when people are starving on the other side of the world?”

What I enjoyed about the interview was Dr. Lancaster’s evident integrity and devotion to her work. She told us that she did not want to live her life in a boring or constrained environment. In response to a question about important choices we make in life, she replied that her most important choice was to get herself an education. She encouraged us to travel and to live in other cultures. “Doing this will help you see yourself as others see you.” Traveling teaches values such as the importance of sharing, making adjustments, and realizing that personal relationships are a priority. At the end we asked her for advice on how we can prepare ourselves to go into the future as adults, she told us “if a door closes, find a window.”

-Rachel Sunberg

Michelle Jaconi
Producer: Meet the Press, NBC

Michelle Jaconi – Passionate Success

Michelle Jaconi is all smiles. From the moment she greeted us in the lobby, confidently dressed in a vibrant red outfit, we knew she would be an enjoyable interview. Her enthusiastic yet down to earth personality made our time with her more of a conversation than an interview. She encouraged us to look at the path to success not as steps on a ladder, but rather as a constant journey toward a goal. When we asked about bloopers that have happened on “Meet the Press,” she laughed and told us some of her favorite live on-air mishaps.

She advised us to recognize our interests and not stray from them. Michelle Jaconi worked her way from being an NBC intern, tirelessly working 7 days a week, to the producer of NBC’s “Meet The Press.” She showed us through her example that when you are passionate, patient, and consistently making advancements toward your goals, you can achieve them. Michelle Jaconi is the perfect example of persistence and a spectacular role model for young women everywhere.

-Camille Schwartz & Leah Nascimento

Michelle Jaconi is the producer of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the longest running show on TV now 60 years old. Going into this interview I was very excited. I couldn’t wait to hear what advice Mrs. Jaconi had for us. Digital Media, in particular television, interests me. To be able to talk with an influential television producer had my stomach doing summersaults.

I was quickly put at ease by Michelle Jaconi’s outgoing nature and contagious energy. She loves her job and it is apparent in the way she talks about her experiences producing “Meet the Press.” She recognized her passion for media when she was very small. Growing up, her father made sure there were always a variety of newspapers available to her. To this day she still reads multiple papers every morning. She is a great example of how doing what you love will lead you to success. This seems to be a growing theme of this trip.

At the end of our time with Michelle Jaconi she gave us a tour of the NBC studio. We saw the set on which “Meet the Press” is filmed. I felt the presence of the many famous and influential people that have been on that set. This was a perfect finish to a fantastic interview. Over the course of the day we had three interviews with three enthralling people, yet Michelle Jaconi stood out to me. Her vibrancy and enthusiasm will leave a lasting impression in my mind.

-Kai Buchanan

Tom Tucker
Chief Scheduler for Congressman Farr

Tom Tucker – Quintessential Congressional Concierge

As we went through the lengthy security check at the Longworth Congressinal Building, we felt we were getting closer to the “top guys.” When we arrived at our destination on the sixth floor, we crammed into a small room. Not quite the luxurious office we were expecting, but our company was nothing short of incredible. We sat down to speak to Tom Tucker, Congressman Sam Farr’s scheduler. For a hard working person who we learned makes a lot of decisions about who get pieces of the Congressman’s time, he seemed naturally humble and down to earth. He is very committed to the public political process, but he makes his contribution by working behind the scenes. “This job is not about getting credit for your work,” he answered when asked if he ever wished he got more recognition for Congressman Sam Farr’s success. “ I do get credit for qwhat I do but I appreciate this job for the experiences I get. If you are here just to get credit this is not the place for you.”

We asked Mr. Tucker how he got started in his career and he explained that he worked in the hotel industry for ten years prior to reaching capital hill. It taught him how to deal with people and to think on his feet to solve problems. He stated somewhat humorously that he “Went from being a concierge for many customers in the hotel business, to being a concierge of one person on Capitol Hill.” His job seemed to require an interesting mix of talents. He also told us to be successful in this kind of work on Capitol Hill that you, “had to be aware of the nuances, and develop your gut feeling about things.”

It was exciting to interview someone who supports one of the leaders of our country. People like Tom Tucker are the foundation that holds the pedestals for the “top guys” to stand on. They are just as smart, capable and clear as the people in front of the scenes. The work that Tom Tucker does is for a purpose greater than making a name for himself, he genuinely wants to support his boss and help in anyway he can to see that he has what he need to do the best job for the country. Our interview with Tom Tucker came at the end of line of interviews today, and we were all exhausted; but he still kept us awake and involved in the conversation.

-Shelby Botula

Video of Michelle Jaconi (Producer of Meet the Press)

Day Two: Initiation

Vital Voices – Breakfast at the Cosmos Club

We began the morning by waking up to the small hurricane pounding on our window. Sluggishly, we crawled out of bed. We met downstairs for a speedy ten minute interview prep session. We hustled and bustled through the rain to the nearest Metro station a few blocks away. We arrived at the Cosmos Club and waited excitedly for the arrival of our two power women, Alyse Nelson Bloom and Maria Pacheco. Both women were incredibly inspiring because of their passion about what they did. Speaking with Maria was especially inspiring for me since she has taken a path similar to the one I aspire to create for myself. Maria is the general manager of Protectors of the Forest in Guatemala

Maria Pacheco: General Manager Protectors of the Forest, Guatemala
Maria Pacheco: General Manager Protectors of the Forest, Guatemala

and also has her hands in the United Nations. Her sincerity and humility helped to immediately form a sense of familiarity between with our group as she shared stories, experiences, and tears. This breakfast interview was a spectacular way to start off what promises to be a very inspiring ten days.

-Camille Schwartz

Vital Voices Interview at the Cosmos Club
Vital Voices Interview at the Cosmos Club

It is surreal to be here. For 8 years I have heard about this place, Washington, DC. I have watched students come back from this trip with a newfound sense of inspiration. I have always been curious about what causes the mental shift in these students. Today, I experienced why students come back so inspired. This morning we did our first two interviews. I was awe-struck by Maria Pacheco. She is an active member of the networking group Vital Voices. I was impressed with Maria’s ability to be genuine and sincere while speaking with us. She told about growing up in Guatemala and witnessing the many deaths in her village due to war. She told us of her fears, and of her desire to escape this bloody reality that did not recognize the worth and rights of women.

While listening to these incredible stories and looking into her eyes so full of strength and determination, I felt an overwhelming sense of inspiration. It was amazing to talk to a woman who had the courage to follow the hard path of helping thousands of women in Guatemala. As a teenaged girl growing up in California with a stable and supportive family, I have been shielded from the pain and reality that she faced as a woman in Guatemala, something that women are still facing today. I have been blessed with the opportunity of believing that I can do anything I set my mind to. This should be a basic right given to all, when in reality millions of people will never see the kind of opportunity I take for granted everyday. Today is only our first day and I am already full of inspiration. My parents are going to be surprised when I return home with a new sense of confidence and determination.

–Leah Nascimento

Susannah Shakow Founder and President of Running Start
Susannah Shakow
Founder and President of Running Start

Susannah Shakow shared with us a story that sums up my impression of her. She told us about being laid off from her job at a law firm. She spent 5 minutes feeling sorry for herself before realizing that she could turn this into great opportunity. She decided to make a change and spend her time nurturing her passion: an organization she helped to create, WUF Pack. WUF stands for Women Under Forty, it is an organization that supports women under forty years of age who are running for office. With Mrs. Shakow’s commitment and willingness to seize opportunity, WUF Pack has grown into a wonderful organization.
Mrs. Shakow taught us that we cannot control what life will throw at us, but we can control how we react to it. When unexpected things happen, we must take the time to recognize the doors that have opened. There will be things in our life that will surprise us and turn our world around. In meeting Mrs. Shakow, we have had the opportunity to hear from a person who was able to push through her emotional reactions and find a new door open. It is inspiring. Change isn’t bad, it’s only different.

-Shelby Botula

There’s nothing like the rush you get when you are racing out the door, down the rain soaked streets, and through the metro, trying to arrive in time for an interview that you found out about 5 minutes before. Just trying to make it to the Susannah Shakow interview was its own feat, but the actual interview made it all worth it. We only had a half hour to bombard her with questions and we made sure to use every minute to our advantage. Susannah Shakow was the embodied grace, knowledge, and passion. Her greatest strength was the balance she held effortlessly between her work and her family.
Instead of a formal interview, we were able to have a conversation with her. This made us realize how down to earth and real she is. What I most enjoyed about the meeting with Susannah was seeing that she deeply believed in what she was working towards. She is dedicated to finding and helping all women with interest in politics. She also works to spark interest in women as young as high school students. She has been an inspiration to our group and a great finale to our day of power women.

-Ashleigh England

Day One
“The Last Mile”

We trekked through the DC jungle, complete with pouring rain and crazy metro adventures not to mention the miscalculation of the final destination. We were all soaking wet, losing all formation of our hairstyles that were a gamble in the first place.
We had trouble finding the room but once we walked in, we found Susannah Shakow sitting at a large oblong table. For those of you who have never seen Susannah, the most accurate way to describe her would be to compare her to someone like Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn, the kind of woman who personifies presence, poise and utter elegance.
I admit that towards the beginning of the interview I was wondering how this woman was in anyway significant compared to Maria Pacheco, basically a woman who stands in my future shoes (if all goes as planned!). I noticed that Susannah kept looking at her blackberry as if she was about to be late for something just a tad more important than the high school students in front of her, looking like wet dogs. But then she explained where she needed to be in 30 minutes; she needed to pick up her kids from school. I had forgotten that political women could have kids! They always seem to be hard and cold, not at all like the mothers I know. Susannah has managed to be a very successful lawyer, politician, businesswoman and mother. She has made a commitment to pick her kids up after school everyday and then do homework with them. I then saw what I was going to take away from the interview. Women can be incredibly successful in their careers, touch many lives and also be the mother that their children need, and do it with elegance.

-Hannah Meade