Tuesday, July 1, 2014
At 5:30 a.m. last Friday morning when Bunny, Jolie, seven teens, and I stumbled off the train from Washington, the first class of the Williamsburg Youth Leadership Program was completed. Beginning with the applications, interviews, team building retreat, the programs, and the trip to Washington, these teens were well behaved, considerate, first class youth. Better yet, they began as simple acquaintances and ended as good friends.
Most of you remember that as Jolie and I planned the Leadership Program we promised the participants a trip to Washington in order to make the program attractive. Of course we had no idea how we would get to Washington but with the support of the community, we traveled to the nation’s capitol and even have a little money in the bank for next year’s program. As the trip developed, the plan was to take the train from Kingstree to DC, travel in Washington on Metro or buses, and that is just what we did. Now, I do not think any of us would recommend sleeping on the train again, but even two sleepless nights can not dampen the wonderful memories of being in Washington with our young friends.
The leadership group left Kingstree at 11:00 on Monday night and rolled into Union Station in Washington at 7:30 Tuesday morning. With our bags in tow, we meandered through Union Station, found our way on the Metro, and even picked the right bus traveling to the 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland where we would be staying. Since we could not get into our rooms until later, we “freshened” up, stored our luggage, and headed out for an adventure. The first day we toured the American History and Natural History Museums, stopped by the White House for a photo shoot, and ended the day at the Kennedy Center for a free concert. Two points that should be mentioned is how well our group handled the metro and how helpful Washington locals are. After the first metro trip, our teens were metro savvy and walked through the train stations like experts. And as for the locals, they are always willing to answer train questions and help visitors get to their destination.
Tuesday night we finally made it back to our room at 10:30 and everyone was ready for a good night sleep. Wednesday morning after breakfast, our group proceeded to the National Zoo. I have been to the zoo many times, but never had such great views of the pandas. It was also the first opportunity to see the adorable new baby panda as well as other animals from around the world. After lunch we headed to Capitol Hill where we had an appointment with Congressman Clyburn. Probably the most enlightening experience for the teens was their meeting with the senior congressman. Congressman Clyburn talked with our group and shared his story of being elected to office and encouraged each one to never give up on their dreams.
The teens were respectful and attentive and the only issue we had was when my phone rang in the middle our visit. Apparently I did not hear Jolie instruct the youth to turn off their ringers. After visiting with the congressman one of his staffers accompanied us through the tunnels for a tour of the Capitol. Even though it was extremely crowded, the youth enjoyed and learned a great deal about our government.
Later in the evening the 10 of us boarded a bus and enjoyed a moonlight tour of Washington and the monuments. By 11 p.m. when we finally got back to our rooms, we felt like we had experienced as much of Washington as we could for one day. For our last day in the city, Arlington National Cemetery and Arlington House was our destination. After visiting the burial sites of the Kennedy’s the tour group headed toward the Tomb of the Unknown Solders. However, our plans were somewhat thwarted by the Prime Minister of Pakistan. As our trolley entered the area of the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, the driver was told no one could move or unload. Security was heavy and our driver told us apparently a dignitary was involved. Finally the trolley was allowed to unload, but instead of seeing the changing of the guard, a special ceremony was in progress and later we learned that it was in honor of the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Our group finally saw the changing of the guards and toured the restored Arlington House and its grounds.
As we left Arlington, the final stop on our whirlwind tour was to the Air and Space Museum where we enjoyed lunch and experienced the history of travel. By the time the exhausted South Carolinians picked up luggage and boarded the train at Union Station, everyone was Washington weary. No doubt, it was a great trip, but the crowds were horrific, and the heat oppressive. But, our teens never complained, whined, or fussed.
They were good travelers and exceptional ambassadors for Williamsburg County. During the trip, we joked with one of our students about him becoming President and that he would have to invite us all back to Washington for his inaugural address. We laughed about it, but in America it’s possible.
Truly history came alive for our young friends in Washington and it showed them that opportunities await those who are willing to take the responsibility to become first class leaders.