Editor’s note: Olympian greats Eva Chen and Olivia Wallace bring their readers Close Up to Washington, D.C.!
Day 1: Headed to D.C.
A Day Worth Waiting For
By Eva Chen
Socks, check. Coat, check. Scarves, check. I carefully folded and rolled all the necessary items I needed for the long awaited Close Up, Washington, D.C. trip. It had been months since I convinced my mom to let me go across the country with a group of strangers. I couldn’t keep my mind from running through the worst possible scenarios: what if I got lost or I couldn’t get along with anyone? Or what if someone kidnapped me? In spite of my worries, not even a snow storm would stop me from boarding that plane.
I spent months before the trip working at my cousin’s pizza joint for pocket money and some trip expenses. Other fellow classmates had also volunteered their time fundraising money for the trip through sponsorships or donating baked goods to sell to teachers and staff at the school. We also spent a significant amount of time during lunch attending meetings with Carmelina Frasca, the Close Up advisor and leader. She gave each of us checklists and more information about the history of Washington, D.C., hoping to make our experience much more enlightening.
At 6:30 p.m., my parents and I headed out to the airport where we met up with Ms. Frasca and the other Close Up attendees. I watched everyone’s face as anticipation and excitement coiled up inside us; for eight days, we would get to learn, explore, and discover the Capitol and heart of the United States. We would visit the places of events that had changed the course of history, step on the same soil and breathe the same air. We would see the monuments, museums and memorials that have been deliberated since the first time we understood what role history plays in our lives. I knew that the moment I stepped foot on that plane, I would begin an unforgettable, life-changing experience.
Day 2: The National Archives, Monument Tour
The National Archives
By Olivia Wallace
The National Archives was so inspiring I was almost brought to tears. The documents available for viewing were instrumental to our growth and success as a country. Simply seeing the exquisite calligraphy written by some of the most radical people of our country’s history was a life changing event that I will never forget, especially in my further inquiries into America’s past this week in D.C.
As I was reading the Declaration of Independence, I noticed a few words in bold unlike anything else on the entire page. It read: “Free and independent states.” To know that this was so important to our past means it must be just as important now. People are giving up their lives to fight for this freedom and we pride ourselves in the fact that we have so much of it, yet we tend to forget its importance. We take for granted what many people don’t have. This place reminded me of the importance and validity of our well-earned freedom.
While viewing the Constitution, surrounded by mounds of fellow viewers, a security guard standing next to the document began to tell us about some fun facts. He told us plenty about the paintings in the room and the document itself, but the most surprising and inspiring was the fact that a teenage boy and his father actually hand-wrote the Constitution together in one weekend. To know that someone at my age could have done something so instrumental was truly gratifying and guides me with hope that I can be someone important in this great nation’s future.
By Olivia Wallace
We made a stop at a few memorials on our nighttime tour of the monuments. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial made a huge impact on me because of the experiences of the people while he was president for four terms. The conditions of the early thirties are too close to our current conditions for comfort. The unemployment, the hunger and the poverty are all quickly reaching the statistics of the Great Depression.
FDR was a savior to the people at this dark time in history. He made reforms that changed the fate of our said-to-be doom. My hope is for the president of our time to act as our savior, like FDR, and change our fate before we are led into a depression once again. The past will repeat unless someone steps in to change it for the future.
While we were moving along, we found ourselves at the Lincoln Memorial and got to see the big man in his “throne of honesty” with the spotlight on him in the night.Seeing him sitting there reminded me of all the wonderful changes he has made for our country.
We stood directly on the spot as if we were Martin Luther King, Jr. giving our speech for equality and civil rights. I imagined the millions standing there watching and listening to him, or in this case, me. It was majestic the way he could move mountains for the change he found necessary. People may have had the perspective, but he brought the spark and the community the people needed to walk down the path of change for equality.
These monuments tell the story of the person’s journey as an advocate for change and bring to life what we may not have learned from the books and PowerPoints.
Day 3: Holocaust Museum
“The worst genocide of all time”
By Olivia Wallace
This was an unforgettable place honoring the people hurt by this unforgettable tragedy. The way the museum is arranged leads you through four levels of the different stages of the Holocaust. When you arrive, you are given the option to pick up the identification card of a real person from the Holocaust. As you move through the stages, you read each page and learn about what happened in their lives.
My card was that of a woman who got married and whose child was shot and killed. She and her husband were able to hide for three years before escaping to the United States. You feel as if this person becomes a part of your family, and anything he/she experiences deeply affects you, especially as you walk through the museum and see what happened to the millions upon millions of persecuted people.
This was absolutely the worst genocide of all time, but it’s not the only one. Time and time again, people are finding it okay to mass murder people for the “greater good.” Killing innocent people because of conflicting ideas does not accomplish a thing. It only causes destruction on both sides and no one will ever win. We felt the pain of the affected while in the museum and felt the shame many Germans have of their country’s past because of what their forefathers did. There is never a winner when there is death and destruction, and the Holocaust museum is a perfect representation of that.
Day 4: The Newseum, Meeting the Roommates
By Eva Chen
The Newseum: featuring centuries worth of news and the constant evolution of media progress.
Our day started out with a trek through the cold, cloudy morning of downtown Washington. We stopped by a café with astounding revolving doors and a beautiful view of a steel gleaming tree right outside the warm, cozy establishment. After a quick lunch of a turkey wrap, cookies and Lays, we continued our trek to the Newseum.
One of the most memorable moments I’ve had so far on this Close-Up trip was just seeing how history was told and portrayed through the eyes of those who lived during those times. There were newspapers on display in glass cases dating back to the 1500s to the most current front-page news.
It’s one thing to learn about the different events throughout history, such as World War 2, Pearl Harbor and 9/11, but it’s an unforgettable sight when you get to read through the points-of-view of news reporters living during those eras, detailing the physical and emotional aspects as each occurring event took place.
Another part of history that we got to see was part of the Berlin Wall. The wall featured graffiti from the people who were trapped, angry about having their rights taken away. Each section had different pieces of artworks, from the red-colored words “Act Up,” to the light hues of blue expressing sadness and pain.
We were also able to view tear-jerking artifacts from the unforgettable event in history, 9/11. The Newseum showed clips of the destruction and horror, and how the attack on our country impacted our lives and our history. There were remains of a news reporter’s cameras and pictures from when he became yet another victim in pursuit of the 9/11 story. News headlines and front pages from around the world lined up a two-story wall, each capturing the attack on our country on that fateful day.
After a walk through our history, we were able to reenact a newscast and posed with gangsters, Will Ferrell (well, a picture) and of course, the famous White House.
Walking out of the enlightening experience, giggles and screams of delight rang outside the revolving doors of the Newseum; it was snowing! Big snowflakes created a blanket of white, melting on the ground and giving many of us our very first snow experience. Today was truly one of my most memorable days.
Meeting the Roommates
By Eva Chen
Some of the most sought after questions upon our arrival in Washington, D.C. were, “Who are our roommates? Where are they from? Are they going to be nice?” I was very nervous when we came back to our hotels knowing that the fateful day had arrived when we would put a name and face to the two mysterious roommates.
We had just arrived to our rooms when we heard the click of the door, and our two new roommates from Michigan walked in. All four of us immediately struck up a conversation, chatting away as if old friends. We then marched down to the dining hall, filled with both national and international students, and enjoyed meaty tacos with a delicious salsa.
Soon after, we attended a workshop about getting to know our “efficacy” (one of the new words I learned!), or willingness to express our opinion to others and debate upon them. Afterwards, we were able to ask questions and observe a true debate between a liberal and conservative, who expressed their views on issues such as gun control laws, gay marriage, abortion and immigration.
One long, hot shower and off to bed I go—well, maybe right after a midnight snack.
Day 5: The War Memorials
“How we represent war”
By Olivia Wallace
Today we were able to visit a few war memorials. Seeing them all in just the span of a few hours led to my questioning how we represent war and the influence that representation has on our country, and more specifically, our young people.
I completely agree that we need to honor everyone who serves our country in combat and respect those who put themselves in danger for our safety and freedom. However, are we glorifying war? Do we make war look as though you can go fight for a little while and then gain respect forever? The people who have been involved in the real process know it’s not easy and there’s no guarantee that they will make it out of combat alive.
As we looked at the many stars on the World War II memorial, each representing 100 soldiers who died during the war, it’s evident that not everyone will always make it back home safely. Some people are willing to take the chance and fight for our country, but is everyone informed well enough to form that opinion for themselves?
The memorials helped us gain respect for those who fought in the war and moved us emotionally as we read the names of fallen soldiers or imagined the agony and fear on the face of someone in immediate danger. By witnessing these memorials, I was able to understand not only the honor and respect soldiers receive, but also the pain they experience from fighting.
Day 6: Congress and the Capitol
By Eva Chen
After dinner at a delicious pizza shop, we headed back to our hotel to prepare for a mock Congress session. In the workshop, we prepared arguments over the proposal of drafting 18- to 25-year-old citizens of the U.S. to participate in a draft, making note on whether it’s fighting or enforcing park rules. Over the long debate, I was thoroughly enlightened by the different points of view and arguments from those for and opposed to the proposal.
This session led up to a bigger scale mock Congress that involved committee members and lobbyists. I was able to express my opinion and contribute new amendments for the legislation to appeal or oppose to the proposal. It was truly one of my most unforgettable experiences.
Throughout this whole trip up to this point, I have learned to voice my thoughts and make a difference in my community, to not be afraid to fight for the laws I want to pass and to be an active part of creating new legislation.
Visiting the Capitol
By Eva Chen
The Capitol is definitely one of the grandest and intricately designed structures I have ever laid eyes on. After going through tough security, we met up with a tour guide passing by a marble, stone, and gold statue of King Kamehameha, the ruler who unified Hawaii.
To begin our tour, each of us was given personal headsets, making us feel like secret agents sent to a spy mission. The tour guide led us to the rotunda, where paintings of the Apotheosis of Washington, the Frieze of American History, and multiple paintings of America’s road to independence brought a feeling of patriotism.
There is just something magical about standing at the spot where history was created, where important historical figures have walked on the same tiles, touched the same wall, standing at the same place pondering over new legislations that have changed the way we lived and how our country has grown. Today, I was getting a taste of how exhilarating our nation’s Capitol truly is.
Day 7: Lincoln Memorial, Snowball Fight!
“Lincoln lives on through us”
By Olivia Wallace
Today was a pretty carefree day. We had a simple workshop, and later, we had our banquet and dance. During the day we were able to play in some nearly record breaking snow in front of some famous buildings.
We were supposed to group up and learn something more about the Lincoln Memorial, but as soon as we got in the snow, we went nuts. It was a full on war of nations in the snow that day.
What I felt as I built myself a snowman along with some newfound friends from Puerto Rico was how strange it was that we could be so normal at something so significant. We could all just play and run as Abraham Lincoln watched us from his “throne.” In that way, he could live on through us.
We did nearly the same thing in front of the Capitol and through this, we proved that those government buildings are not only for high clearance politicians, but for the people too.
Earlier in the week, we were able to actually tour the building as well, and it has an aura of inspiration that makes you want to do something and make a change for your country, for your people, and for the better.
The Snowball Fight
By Eva Chen
I felt the biting wind and flakes of snow as soon as I stepped out the hotel doors. There were white glossy piles of one foot high snow covering the sides of the driveway. I heard a stampede of wild high schoolers behind me, shoveling out the doors, each grabbing a handful of snow and throwing it at each other. The battle has begun.
Day 8: The White House
“Centuries of history”
By Eva Chen
Not many people can say that they spent their Valentine’s Day at the White House, surrounded by centuries of history and portraits of past first ladies and presidents.
It was a miracle, really, that we got to our tour at 7:30 a.m. on time with the icy ground. There were piles after piles of snow having yesterday been one of the biggest snow storm in D.C. history. Just imagine a group of 20 Californians with ill-equipped shoes, treading through D.C. without slipping or falling.
After surviving the near death experience, we arrived at the White House. After a routine tight-knit security check, the first thing that we passed by upon entering the White House were rows and rows of picture of past and current presidents spending time with their families, receiving kings and queens, their pets, and them conversing with important figures in history such as Martin Luther King Jr.
Following the pictures, there were three doors we could stand outside and view, but not enter. One of the three rooms was designed to house the First Lady’s portraits and fine dining plate sets. On the second floor, there were four rooms, the Blue Room, the Red Room, the Green Room, and the East Room, where the president and his first lady receives guests and host parties. The Blue, Green, and Red rooms had wallpapers made of cloth, where the fabric had a shine and texture that added a brilliant shimmer against the morning sunlight.
As for the East Room, where most parties and balls were held, there was a chandelier hanging elegantly in the middle of the room. When the sunlight caught the crystals, it created this three dimensional light, flicking on and off.
We concluded Valentine’s Day with a romantic getaway at a ice skating rink outside.
Day 9: Final Day in D.C.
Meeting New People
By Olivia Wallace
Throughout the week, we met people from all over the world. We were able to share stories, exchange ideas, and best of all, swap local slang. My roommates were from Arizona and we were able to bond almost immediately. The students from Louisiana, specifically New Orleans, taught us about “buku” which is their slang for “a lot.” Students from Indiana taught us how to really dance.
While we were at The Spy Museum, we met people from England and they taught us all about their culture and country. I found out their schooling is extremely different than ours and they do not learn history in the same way we do. As Americans, our “go-to” accent is usually British, so I have always thought it was a fascinating accent; however, I never thought that the British students would love our American accents just as much! They were floored by the way we talked and they even did their best impression of us and we did ours of them!
After swapping Instagram and Snapchat usernames, we moved on our way to finish out our final day in D.C. It was an amazing experience that I’m sure we’ll all remember.