Close Up students visit capital, 2015

Olympian greats Jes Smith and Maia  Samboy take their readers on the Close Up trip to Washington, D.C.
Olympian greats Jes Smith and Maia Samboy take their readers on the Close Up trip to Washington, D.C.

Day 1: Early flight, monuments tour

By Maia Samboy

Castro Valley High students board a plane headed for  Washington, D.C.
Castro Valley High students board a plane headed for Washington, D.C. Photo by Carmelina Frasca.
At first, I was infuriated when my phone alarm ringed loudly at three in the morning. I rolled groggily over, annoyed and exhausted. As I shut off my alarm, a realization rolled over me. This very morning, I would be on a plane headed towards our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. A burst of excitement shot through my body, and I leaped out of bed. I got my stuff together, and arrived at SFO at around 5 a.m.

I was greeted by a chorus of exhausted and anxious “hellos.” As we began to board the plane, the grogginess wore off as the importance of the moment sunk in. We were on the way to a place of great monuments, enthralling history, and quick-tongued politicians. We would see the documents that founded our nation and stand in the places where events became history.

America's 16th president is honored in the Lincoln Memorial. Photo by Jes Smith.
America’s 16th president is honored in the Lincoln Memorial. Photo by Jes Smith.

After the exhausting five hour flight, we landed in the airport at approximately 4 p.m. D.C. time. After waiting for our bags and the vans to arrive, we were rushed to the hotel to quickly unpack. After checking in, we ate a delicious pizza dinner, and then began a night tour of the monuments.

We saw the Jefferson Memorial, the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. I was blown away by the beauty of the greek architecture lit up in the night. I was honestly left speechless as I saw all the monuments I had read about and seen in my history text books stand before me. The awe-inspiring size of the monuments, mixed with the uplifting quotes from some of the people who made this nation great, created an almost spiritual experience.

We returned to our hotel at around midnight, and Carmelina Frasca, the teacher in charge of our trip, surprised us with delicious cupcakes. I hope the rest of our trip will be able to compare to our amazing first day.

Day 2: Washington Monument, Holocaust Museum, Newseum

By Maia Samboy

The Washington Monument towers over the capital landscape. Photo by Maia Samboy
The Washington Monument towers over the capital landscape. Photo by Maia Samboy.
Our first full day in D.C. began with another early start. We woke up at 6 a.m. D.C. time, but our jet-lagged brains were still stuck on California time, where it was 3 a.m. After a quick breakfast, we headed to the Washington Monument. As we drew nearer and nearer to the monument, I realized how enormous it truly is. It stands a whopping 555 feet tall, and is the tallest free-standing stone structure in the world.

We rode to the highest floor of the building and were able to look down hundreds of feet onto the entire capital. We were able to see all the monuments we had visited the previous night. They had seemed so big then, but now they seemed like tiny children’s toys sitting in the distance.

After witnessing the breathtaking view from the Washington Monument, we walked to the Holocaust Museum. I knew going in that the Holocaust artifacts I would see there would be saddening, but I did not know how deeply I would be affected emotionally. The hall of shoes made me feel especially emotional. It was a room just filled with the shoes of Holocaust victims. It made the sheer amount of victims lost real for me.

The Newseum was especially interesting to the group's journalism students. Photo by Jes Smith.
The Newseum was especially interesting to the group’s journalism students. Photo by Jes Smith.

Afterwards, we headed to the Newseum. This museum was one of my favorites so far because it brought the top news stories from all over the world to life. The sections they had of the Berlin Wall were very cool to see, but the gallery of newspapers that held the top headlines in American history was my favorite. I also really enjoyed the gallery of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers.

After an exhausting afternoon, it was finally time to go back to the hotel and meet our fellow Close Up students from around the United States. It was amazing to see people of so many different backgrounds coming together for a common experience. I’m super excited to see what tomorrow has in store!

Day 3: Smithsonian, Lincoln’s hat and new friends

By Maia Samboy

Day three of our D.C. adventure included revisiting many of the monuments we had the privilege of viewing on the night of day 1. This time, we saw them during the day, and visited with the Close Up program. Close Up constructed many debates and lessons based around the history of the memorials, which helped us all realize their significance.

The Marine Corps War Memorial makes a dramatic sight. Photo by Jes Smith.
The Marine Corps War Memorial makes a dramatic sight. Photo by Jes Smith.

Although the monument visits were very informative, my favorite part of the day was our visit to the National Museum of American History, which is part of the Smithsonian Museum. On exhibit this week is the actual top hat Abraham Lincoln was wearing when he was assassinated. It was absolutely amazing to get to see such an important part of our nation’s history. The hat is rarely on display because it must be kept in an extremely controlled environment, and I am so grateful for the perfect timing of our trip.

We were also able to further our relationships with the Close Up students from all over the country. It was interesting to learn about the similarities and differences between the different states represented. We have made friends with students from Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Texas, Florida, and several other states. We had the privilege of teaching them the words “hella” and “finna,” while the kids from Florida taught us how to properly use the word “literally.” They didn’t even know it was a word until they heard us use it. Jes and I made friends with a boy from Minnesota named Mark, who just laughed at us when we complained about the freezing temperatures in D.C.

In the evening, we were able to choose a workshop. The subjects all pertained to youth and the American school system. Being able to learn about a topic we are passionate about made the workshops much more interesting. Jes attended to workshop about bullying in schools, while I chose to learn and debate about youth obesity. By the end of the day we were completely exhausted, but I must admit out debate skills had improved already. I am so excited to learn more about our country and government, and especially excited to see more of our out-of-state friends.

Day 4: War memorials, the Lincoln Memorial, and Mock Congress

By Maia Samboy

Students visited the World War II Memorial.
Students visited the World War II Memorial. Photo by Jes Smith.

We kicked off day 4 with with a study visit to the WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War memorials. We also re-visited the Lincoln Memorial. Each war memorial was unique. The WWII memorial was circular, and included all states and territories of the United States who fought in the war. It commemorated all the soldiers who fought, as well as the women who made the supplies and held up the economy in the states.

The Korean War Memorial features statues of American soldiers.
The Korean War Memorial features statues of American soldiers. Photo by Jes Smith.

The Korean Memorial, which Jes and I both really liked, has beautiful, realistic statues of soldiers in the war, and mentioned the names of those who died or went missing in action. The Vietnam Memorial also listed the names of those who died or were missing in action. A part of the Vietnam Memorial I thought was really cool was a statue of an African American, a Latino, and a Caucasian soldier all fighting together.

On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, there is an engraving commemorating the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. This memorial within a memorial was put in place due to the efforts of six Close Up students from several years ago. They petitioned Congress, raised the funds, and were able to get a monument they felt was important put in place. I find it amazing that kids my age can achieve something so monumental (pun intended), and I love that Close Up encourages its students to become politically active.

The Lincoln Memorial features a plaque that honors Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Lincoln Memorial features a plaque that honors Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo by Jes Smith.

I tried my best to listen to the lessons about the significance of the memorials, but I found it almost impossible to focus on anything but how extremely freezing I was. I was wearing three sweaters, a coat, and three pairs of pants, but my body was still numb from the intense cold. The kids from Florida were even worse off than us, they have even less experience with cold temperature than we do living in the Bay Area. The kids from Minnesota just rolled their eyes and laughed.

We were able to escape the biting cold by attending a talk by Glenn Thrush, a writer for the political web site and magazine, Politico. He explained to us how the media is involved in politics, and how we can better find accurate information on what is going on in our government. I always assumed the main role of reporting on politics was to inform citizens what was going on in the government, but I have now realized that politically reporting serves to influence how people vote as well. Thrush was hilarious.

We prepped for our official visit to Capitol Hill tomorrow, when we will get to meet our senators and representatives. It was an unreal experience to be able to sit in the rooms where bills are passed, and decisions are made that will affect the entire country.

After our preview of Capitol Hill, and stopping for dinner at a nearby mall, we headed back to the hotel for a workshop on debating important issues pertaining to America today. We debated on issues that would later be brought up in the Mock Congress. The issue I was told to debate was a gun control bill, and whether background checks should be mandatory for all gun sales. It was easy to debate in our small workshop groups, but I was extremely shocked and anxious when I found out I was chosen to debate in front of a panel of my peers acting as a committee of Congress. I was so nervous I was somehow simultaneously overheated and freezing.

Despite my nervousness, I was actually able to get through the debate without passing out, and as a bonus I actually performed decently. My opponent was from Florida, and has actually became one of my friends over the past few days. I knew he was almost as nervous as I was, it calmed me to know I wasn’t the only one freaking out. After the debates were over, we took the specific issue of minimum wage and discussed it as an entire group in a Congress-style session. It was an interesting experience trying to carry out an orderly debate with almost 300 antsy and exhausted teenagers.

Our Mock Congress session, along with all the other debates and workshops, have really prepared us for our visit to Capitol Hill, and discussions with our representatives tomorrow. I honestly can’t wait to meet the people who represent us in government, and find out for myself if their ideals and actions line up with what I believe our country and my community need.

Day 5: Capitol Hill, Senator Boxer and Congressman Swalwell

By Maia Samboy

Senator Barbara Boxer discussed obesity, the cost of higher education and marijuana with the group.
Senator Barbara Boxer discussed obesity, the cost of higher education and marijuana with the group. Photo by Carmelina Frasca.

This is it. This is the day that everything we have done with Close Up so far has been preparing us for. All the workshops, all the study visits, all the debates, have been preparing us for the day when we get to meet our members of Congress. If you are an optimistic thinker, which I tend to be, you can think of today as the chance you get to influence the outcome of bills that will affect the entire country. Bringing up an important issue with your representative can lead to that issue being brought up in Congress, which can lead to change that will affect the entire country.

As the large herd of 40 CVHS students stepped out in their slack and blazers, you could feel the buzz of excitement in the air. Unfortunately, the day began with a rough start, especially for Jes. As we were boarding the Metro train to get to Capitol Hill, Jes and our other friend Azlene rushed to board the train. Unfortunately, there was no room for the rest of us, and the Metro doors closed before the two of them could get out. The look of sheer fear on their faces was absolutely priceless. We all freaked out, and were banging on the doors in hopes they would stop the train and let them out, but the train sped away, leaving a mass of worried teenagers behind. Luckily, when we arrived at our train stop, they were waiting.

While the incident with the Metro was scary and hilarious, the day that followed was unforgettable. We visited the beautiful library of congress, we were able to meet and interview our Senator Barbara Boxer and our Representative Eric Swalwell, and we were even able to sit in on a meeting of the House of Representatives.

Our first stop was the meeting with Senator Boxer. We were fortunate enough to be able to ask her three questions. First, she was asked about what steps she thinks need to be taken in order to spread awareness of the youth obesity epidemic. She responded by praising Michelle Obama for her Let’s Move! campaign, and saying that it is important to have one strong, central person delivering the message. She also said it is important for all of us to be conscious of what we put in our bodies. “You would never take poison, if it said poison, so you just have to think about what you’re putting in your body. We all do,” said Boxer.

Next, she was asked about the rising price of a college education in California, and what will be done to combat these large tuition hikes. She mentioned President Obama’s proposal for free community college,and expressed her disdain for the extremely high college prices. “It’s an absolute outrage, an outrage. College should not be that expensive, but somehow it is,” she said. She hopes to see a move towards free community college, and an increase in financial aid.

She was also asked about the legalization of marijuana. “I voted to legalize it for medical uses, but I am still undecided,” she said. “I am watching Colorado, to see if that works well, but there a lot of pros and cons to legalization, but I definitely think it should be available for medical uses.”

Congressman Eric Swalwell also met the students.
Congressman Eric Swalwell also met the students. Photo by Carmelina Frasca.

After we talked to Senator Boxer, we moved on to talk with Congressman Swalwell, representative for our area of the East Bay. He was asked about many of the same current issues as Boxer. When asked about the price of college, he had a similar response to Boxer: “We need to make sure you guys can go into this new economy not burdened and saddled with all this new debt,” he said. His solution is to stop charging interest on student loans. “There is a little bit of a risk you take,” said Swalwell, “but the reward is better jobs, and better access to education.” He also supported Obama’s free community college plan.

Swalwell was also asked about the impending Keystone Pipeline vote. “I voted against it,” he said. “I think that we do not want to be an accessory to allowing more carbon emissions from the dirtiest oil around….I think we should really work towards renewables like solar and wind.”

Swalwell was also asked about when he believed to outcome would be in the Supreme Court decision regarding gay marriage this year. “I think that love is love, and government should not be able to stand in the way of love…I think two people who love each other should be allowed to marry,” said Swalwell.

After our interview with Congressman Swalwell we fell into some luck. Thanks to Swalwell himself, we were able to get into a session of the House of Representatives. We had the privilege of hearing them argue about and watching them vote on a proposed amendment to the Keystone Pipeline Bill. I think this was my highlight of the trip, because we were actually able to see the government at work. We got to hear both sides argue their point, and then watch the voting process.

All in all, it was an amazing day. We were able to get an inside look at how our government is run, and met the people elected to represent us. This day opened many doors for me, and made me see how easy it actually is to get involved in politics, and make your voice heard.

Day 5: Metro madness and Sherlock Holmes

by Jes Smith

Let’s just say that the start to my day was very interesting. We met up with our teachers from CVHS and we headed out to the metro to head towards Capitol Hill. We arrived at the metro platform to wait for our train, and when our train finally arrived, one of our four teachers told us to hurry onto the train car. Another girl and I were the first two to get on and as soon as I turned around, the train car shut with just us two on it. Luckily Azlene and I knew what station to get off on and we reunited with our classmates about 20 minutes later.

Swalwell voiced his opposition to the Keystone oil pipeline. Photo by Maia Samboy.
Swalwell voiced his opposition to the Keystone oil pipeline. Photo by Maia Samboy.
After long walks from building to building in the Capitol, we got to tour the Capitol Building, walk through the Library of Congress, see the Senate offices, and have a conversation with Senator Barbara Boxer. After all of those very memorable events of the day, I was in awe when we had the chance to also talk with our Congressman Eric Swalwell.

Our day on Capitol Hill was both freezing cold and very memorable. As soon as we met back up with our fellow Close Up students to go to dinner and a show. Buses 1-3 went to see Sherlock Holmes, while buses 4-6 went to another show. Sherlock Holmes had me dying from laughter in my seat. After a very successful day, I couldn’t wait for another one!

Day 6: Arlington Cemetery and final banquet

By Maia Samboy

Headstones honor the dead at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Jes Smith.
Headstones honor the dead at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Jes Smith.

Although I was exhausted from all our walking on Capitol Hill Day, I jumped out of bed when my 6:45 alarm went off. Today was our last day on the Close Up program, and our last day with our out-of-state friends.

We attended a seminar on the national debt, visited outside of the White House to see fellow Americans exercising their right to protest, and visited Arlington Cemetery, which was my favorite. It amazed and saddened me to see to immense number of soldiers who bravely gave their lives for this country.

When we got back to the hotel, we had our last seminar on political efficacy, and what we can do to make a difference in our government. I think this past week has inspired many to become involved in politics in their own communities.

After our seminar, it was time for what we were all actually looking forward to that day: the final banquet and dance. After we all changed into more formal clothes, we reported downstairs for our last dinner as a Close Up family of 300.

The food was delicious, of course, but the highlight of the evening was the dance afterwards. We danced and just goofed around until all of us were kicked out to go to bed. It was awesomely fun and very high-energy way to say goodbye to our new friends. Luckily, we will all be able to stay in touch.

After fun times and sad goodbyes it was time to go to bed. It was the perfect way to end a program I’ll never forget.

Day 6: Last day with Close Up friends

by Jes Smith

Today was an amazing but sad day. We got to stop by the White House and do some exploring around the outer fence of it. While at the White House, I had a conversation with a lady who has been protesting outside of the White House for over 30 years. I got to hear her thoughts on all of the recent issues and on the White House. While taking pictures I also met a fellow photographer! His name is Dan and he lives in Minnesota. He and I talked about photography for a little while but sadly our conversation was cut short because it was time to head to our next destination.

Students met a determined protestor outside the White House fence. Photo by Maia Samboy.
Students met a determined protestor outside the White House fence. Photo by Maia Samboy.
After leaving the White House, we headed over to Arlington National Cemetery where we got to see the changing of the guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Arlington really got me emotional and was a very amazing experience. Shortly after leaving Arlington Cemetery, we arrived back at the hotel for a final workshop with our groups, and then the final banquet and dance.

The final banquet was very funny but also very emotional. It was the last time I would ever see most of the amazing people I met there. One representative from each workshop group gave a speech about how their workshop was the best (it was definitely Workshop 6 for the win). After the banquet, we had about a half an hour to change for the dance we were having and to take pictures. The dance was very fun because our friends from Miami taught us to salsa dance while we taught everyone how to get down the California way. About 15 minutes before curfew, some friends and I went up to the 14th floor to look at the view and to enjoy our last 15 minutes together. Dan walked me to my hotel room door and promised me breakfast the next morning. It was definitely a great end to the best week of my life.

Day 7: Pentagon and International Spy Museum

By Maia Samboy

Although Close-Up ended yesterday, the D.C. extravaganza did not end for Castro Valley High. Thanks to our wonderful teacher, Carmelina Frasca, we were able to stay an extra two days in D.C. Today, we took a tour of the Pentagon.

The security to get into the Pentagon was insane, but we were eventually able to get in. We were led through the building by young men in the military, who cracked jokes at every opportunity available. We saw displays about each branch of the army, learned about the different restaurants and fast-food places in the building, and learned about the history of the Pentagon. It was ginormous, and at the end of the tour my legs and feet were so sore from all the walking.

Ice skating was another highlight of the day.
Ice skating was another highlight of the day. Photo by Carmelina Frasca.
After the Pentagon, we visited the International Spy Museum, which was one of my favorite things from the trip. When you entered the museum, you had to choose an undercover identity that you would go by for the rest of the time you were in the museum.

On display were gadgets and weapons used by real spies. My favorite was the dog doody transmitter, which is exactly what it sounds like. It is a transmitter, disguised as piece of poop, used to tell spy planes where to land. I also liked the lipstick gun.

At the end of the day, we were all sore and exhausted, but excited for our White House Tour the next day.

Day 8: White House and voyage home

By Maia Samboy

Touring the White House was the group's grand finale.
Touring the White House was the group’s grand finale. Photo by Carmelina Frasca.

We woke up extremely early in the morning, packed, and headed straight for the White House. It took us forever to get through White House Security, but the tour was well worth it. Although we were only able to see a small portion of the building, I was amazed by what I saw. There was original furniture that dated back over 100 years! There was also the portrait of George Washington saved from the original White House before it was burned down in the War of 1812. We were also able to the State Dining Room which was used about a week ago by the president for a bill signing.

After the White House tour, we got our luggage and headed to the airport. Our D.C. adventure was coming to an end, and I just could not come to terms with this tragedy, and I was dead tired for all the walking we did all week, so I slept the entire way home. I am so extremely grateful for the opportunity to take this trip, and I hope I will keep the friends I made there. I learned so much from this amazing week in our nation’s capital, and I will never forget my time there. Thank you Ms. Frasca for making this entire trip possible, and thank you Close Up for opening me up to the world of politics.

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