From Gambier to D.C.: Learning on Another Hill
On the way home, the view outside turned from gray rain, to a white blanket of fog, to rolling hills dotted with trees creeping into fall, their upper branches beginning to turn yellow and orange, and then, finally, to the still fields of recently harvested corn. This was my view from the bus window during an eight-hour drive from Washington, D.C. back to Gambier, Ohio.
Enjoy this only slightly staged photo of Eric Sutton III '18 and me at a pit stop in Pennsylvania, where D.C.-themed souvenirs are abundant.
How did I find myself in such strange circumstances? How did I find myself in the U.S. Capitol, looking down from the gallery at the floor of the Senate Chamber, or listening to Kenyon professors and alumni discuss the media’s involvement in this year’s presidential election?
How did I attend the 2016 “From Hill to Hill” Center for the Study of American Democracy conference?
Well, it all started with an email.
At Kenyon, you will always receive an abundance of emails. Too many to read or even to count. But several weeks ago, one subject line caught my eye: “Want to spend Fall Break talking politics in D.C.?” My first response was skepticism. Sure, I wanted to go to D.C.! But what exactly would we be doing? (Lots of cool stuff, as it turns out.) Would my friends be there? (Some of them!) Would I miss the opportunity to spend Fall Break preparing for my midterms? (Yes, but it would be okay!) Would it be expensive? (Most of the costs were covered by Kenyon.)
I voiced all these concerns to my friend, Katie Connell ’18, as we sat in my dorm room, hovering around my computer and reading over the email in detail. She looked at me and replied enthusiastically, “Who cares? If you want to go, just go!”
With just that little gem of support, I decided to apply. Did I know much about politics? No. However, I definitely care quite passionately about politics. They are a product of and a response to the world I live in. In our democracy, I can enact change. And being informed about my environment is the most important part of that responsibility. Sure, I’m not a political science major. I’m not involved with any political groups on campus. I tried my best to relate this in my application, and soon enough another email arrived notifying me that I had been accepted to attend the conference.
Casually chatting with General Michael Hayden, the conference's keynote speaker and former director of the CIA and NSA.
In a whirlwind of about 42 hours, I dove into D.C. and all it had to offer. I ate gelato at a strangely expensive place. I saw the Lincoln Memorial lit up in all its bright stone glory while watching the sky settle into hues of pink behind the Washington Monument. I toured the U.S. Capitol building. I thought about President Obama’s legacy and the ideal of the American family. I questioned the media’s techniques of reporting on presidential campaigns and terrorism. I reassessed my opinions of both presidential candidates. I reconnected with my recently graduated friends who now live in D.C. I learned about internships and career opportunities in the city. I gawked at the wonderful things that Kenyon students do once they leave the Hill.
I sat in silence on the way back to Gambier. I thought about how I initially wasn’t sure about going on this trip. I thought about how much I’d learned, not just about this presidential election, but about how we find American identity. How we come to exercise our rights in a system that thankfully lets us do so. And about how taking chances is the best way to grow, the best way to find meaning in a sea of events and experiences that often prevents us from doing so.