Presidential Classroom: A Student’s Guide to a Unique Fourth of July

Fireworks bursting over the Potomac River, picnicking near the Washington Monument, getting lost at the Lincoln Memorial and making a few crazy friendships along the way! One of the most thrilling Fourth of July weekends was when I attended the Presidential Classroom young scholars program in Washington DC during the summer of 2005. Presidential Classroom is an educational program for sophomores, juniors and seniors in high school that provides opportunities for future leaders in public service.

This experience was eye opening for me because not only did I see historical monuments that I had read about in history classes my entire childhood, but it was also the very first time I had traveled across the country on an airplane. After leaving Texas, I got lost inside the maze of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport while trying to find my connecting flight to Washington DC.

When I finally arrived at Georgetown University, I walked into the room and saw three other girls, but only two beds. They were so kind enough to inform me that because I was the last to arrive, I would be sleeping on an air mattress the rest of the week. I did not mind all that much since I was seventeen and just glad to get away from my parents house for a few days.

My roommates included hyper Rhiannon from Michigan, Brandy, a southern bell from North Carolina and outspoken Janet from New York. The four of us ended up getting along great! We were chatting and laughing so much our first night that one of the chaperones in the program, ironically named Jeb Bush, (NOT the former governor of Florida) came banging on our door to keep it down because other students were sleeping. Before we could open the door we all giggled and jumped up to hide. Rhiannon jumped a little too hard and landed on my air mattress which began to deflate. Not only did I end up sleeping on the floor the rest of the week, but I had to endure my roommates teasing me for my southern drawl and use of “y’all.”

The program consisted of five caucuses with about forty students in each. Every caucus met once a day to attend networking meetings to discuss career goals, attend speaker events, participate in community projects and build membership interests. The program had multiple weeklong sessions throughout the year, and because ours were towards the end, we were left with snooze worthy speakers. Instead of hearing Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell, we got the likes of Ralph Nader and the former chairman of the Republican National Convention, Ken Mehlman. They both made some great points, but you know it is bad when your program chaperones are falling asleep!

We also attended a comedy show called “The Capitol Steps” which provided music and political satire. This was by far one of the best comedy shows that I had ever seen! The show was hilarious and also included dinner.

I was fortunate enough to have one of my good friends, Allison, attend the program with me. Even though congress was not in session, Allison and I still visited our representative’s offices at that time which included Kay Bailey Hutchinson, John Cornyn and Solomon Ortiz. We ended up just chatting and laughing with their interns. One intern was actually from the same city as us, Corpus Christi, Texas. We joked about how there was only a handful of things to actually do in Corpus.

Looking back, what was actually more humorous was the awkward exchange between the intern and the two of us. There were numerous silent pauses and we would all just stare at one another and have no other choice but to laugh in order to break the silence. At one point, Allison and I were sitting on a couch and I laughed so hard that my face turned bright red and I began to tear up, then fell on the floor.

When we visited the Lincoln Memorial, everything was amazing and massive in person! The chaperones told each caucus to be back at a specific time and they really were not kidding. My tendency to be unpunctual got the best of me because I was left at the Lincoln Memorial! I had no cell phone so I found security and hung out with them for awhile.

Also during this trip I visited Mount Vernon, Arlington National Cemetery, the Smithsonian, Capitol Hill, Grand Central, the FBI Headquarters and a presentation by the CIA. I even went and stood on the floor of the House of Representatives.

On our last night, we picnicked near the Washington Monument and watched the fireworks over the Potomac River. Even though I got lost in an airport, was stranded at the Lincoln Memorial and slept on the floor for a few days, I still managed to have a great time and look back on my experience every Fourth of July with fond memories.