In early April, the 21st Century Citizenship Senior Seminar traveled to Washington, D.C. for a multi-day field trip that included touring museums, visits to the Supreme Court, Congress, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and dinner with area alumni. Piper Holden '19 recounts her trip.
Preparing For the Trip
Before we arrived in Washington, D.C., we spent more than a month planning for the overnight field trip. Our entire senior seminar divided up tasks. I handled transportation, scheduling, and planned out the appetizers for the alumni dinner which we held on Monday night. Other peers reached out to School connections in the Supreme Court, Congress, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). We also had to plan our budget and prepare for an alumni dinner.
After settling in we set off for a calm afternoon of museum and city exploring. I, along with a few friends, decided to spend our few hours in the National Portrait Gallery. Although I have traveled to D.C. throughout the years, I had never been to this museum and was dying to view the "newly" completed portraits of Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively. They did not disappoint. After our afternoon of exploring, we headed back to our home-away-from-home and enjoyed both pizza and Ghanaian food.
While our peers at school were in the midst of their first class of the week, our seminar entered a think-tank ranked first in the world for defense and security. While at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), we heard from Dr. Seth Jones about terrorism and extremism. We also learned about the role of CSIS and how they drive news. We learned about their use of private satellite imagery and how they discovered China was building islands in the South China Sea. We also engaged in a simulation in which we were each assigned a position in the government to be involved in a cybersecurity crisis. I assumed the position of the White House and had a incredibly fun time debating various solution options. From this simulation, we all realized how intensely difficult making decisions can be in government, and that it takes a lot of thought and debating to generate solutions. In the afternoon we visited the Capital building and learned about Congress. After our busy day, we hosted an alumni dinner party that turned out to be extremely fun, and I had the opportunity to connect with some alumni in my older sister Trent's 2012 graduating class.
This morning we headed to the Supreme Court. After studying various cases and arguing one from this term in front of the entire School, I believe students were most excited for this visit. To be honest, I did not think much of the building before my visit. I imagined a simple room where people argued constitutional law, that's all. Well, was I wrong! Walking into the building, I was enveloped in pristine white marble. Climbing the stairs into the courtroom, I could feel the amount of monumental history seeping through the walls. More important than the physical space itself was the opportunity to speak to various individuals who work in the building. One of the most interesting individuals we talked to was a clerk for Justice Ginsburg who explained not only the role of both the court and clerks, but also highlighted how Ginsburg gifts her former clerks' children with "Grand Clerk" onesies, a very cute fun fact we learned. The clerk also touched on the immense press surrounding the American Humanist Association v. Maryland case, the one we choose to research and present in front of the entire School. Hearing about how important that decision will be to the first amendment, and our country, made our decision to choose the case even more special. After our visit to the Supreme Court, we headed back home to Charlottesville.
Lasting Impact of the Trip
The opportunity to bond as nearly one-fifth of the senior class in our last few months together was one aspect that made this trip so special. We also had the chance to work together as a class and plan everything ourselves, which is a really cool opportunity that you would not have at most other schools. Also, the opportunity to hear from individuals in the Supreme Court and from CSIS was an experience I will never forget. As someone looking to potentially major in public policy and human rights in college, the work at CSIS was extremely appealing and engaging, especially in thinking about what career I want to pursue in the future. Hearing from individuals who work at the Supreme Court gave us an inside view on how each justice makes their decisions and all of the behind-the-scenes work we never would have discovered in the classroom from online research. By traveling to D.C., we were allowed to learn about the complexities of American government and see where all the magic happens first-hand.