When we last left the Youth Education Summit, they'd just had a beautiful day touring D.C.'s monuments. (Read Part I here.)
The next morning dawned bright and very, very hot. But the Y.E.S. Summiteers broiled patiently in D.C.’s signature summer humidity, knowing that they were in for a very special treat: Just outside the Capitol building, they would be meeting with Congressman Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) for a personal question-and-answer session. “It’s great to see a group of young people like yourselves here to learn about our freedoms, especially our Second Amendment freedoms,” said Westerman.
Later, it was time for a visit to the Capitol Building’s House and Senate galleries. As the students gazed down into the very same rooms where Representatives and Senators have been debating legislation since the Nineteenth Century, the security guard (who clearly missed his calling as a docent) stepped forward to give an impromptu lecture on the history of these chambers.
That same personal touch was in evidence as Y.E.S. made its way to the Supreme Court building. Among the echoing white marble and rich draperies of the chamber where the nine Justices meet throughout the year, the teens were treated to inside stories of how the highest court in the land actually works from day to day. Included among these facts was that it’s not actually the highest court in the land: Just above the chamber, the building houses…a basketball court. In fact, a faint booming could be heard from somewhere above. Was a game in session?
Sadly, no: As they jogged down those famous marble steps back to the bus, the skies opened in an earth-shattering thunderstorm. Within seconds, the entire group was utterly drenched, hurrying through sidewalks that had turned to rivers. Looking at the students, each sitting in their own personal puddle, the chaperones decided that it would be best to skip the National Museum of American History and head back to the hotel so the students could get into some dry clothes.
Once comfortably dry and fed, the teens took part in seminar sessions for over three hours, discussing firearm regulations, environment and climate change as well as international affairs and foreign policy. Afterwards they were off to bedtime, because the next morning would feature what has always been a highlight of the Youth Education Summit: A tour of Marine Corps Base Quantico. “Quantico Day,” as it’s affectionately known, is a chance to experience what life as a Marine might be like, but in perfect safety. The students started their day with a bang—literally—by participating in what has got to be the coolest virtual-reality training around. Called the VCCT, or Virtual Combat Convoy Trainer, students sit in a real (albeit stripped-down) HMMV equipped with real (albeit altered so they use lasers, not bullets) M16s. Surrounded by a virtual-reality display, students must communicate with and protect one another from attack on their convoy. It’s a dizzyingly exciting exercise.
Later, the Y.E.S. Summiteers made their way to the National Museum of the Marine Corps, which offers fascinating history combined with hands-on attractions. There’s nothing that brings home the somber reality of battle like the display dedicated to the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, which is super-cooled to replicate the frozen conditions of that battle. Then, after a dinner of real Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs) at the feet of the Iwo Jima Memorial, the students got to enjoy the world-famous “8th and I Parade.” It’s a spectacle in which Marines perform dazzling displays of synchronized marching and rifle drills. (Luckily, this time, there was no more inclement weather to rain on anyone’s parade.)
The week closed on a somberly beautiful note as the students decamped at Arlington National Cemetery at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where they participated in a wreath-laying ceremony dedicated to, as is inscribed on the back of the tomb, “…an American soldier known but to God.”It’s a terrific honor to do this, and the students were also lucky enough to have one of the Tomb Guards take half an hour after the ceremony to talk with them.
All good things, it’s said, must come to an end, and soon it was time for the Summiteers and chaperones to say good-bye. It’s a bittersweet time for all. “I’ve been part of many camps and trips, but this trip and group of people are high quality,” said Oregon’s Ben Swanson. “We’re all from different states, but that doesn’t matter—we all mesh and I’ve made some really close friends. [Y.E.S] represents the greatness of people and this country.”
“These students are among some of the best and brightest in the country,” smiled Program Coordinator David Helmer. “It’s such an honor to see them experience our nation’s capital and learn about our freedoms. And it’s always so hard to say good-bye to them at the end of the week.” Continued Helmer, “I have no doubt that they’re going to do great things in the future…and that we’ll be hearing from them again.”
Of course, there’s also the matter of scholarships. At the close of the week, $16,000 in scholarships were allocated to the teens who shone the brightest, with an additional $15,000 up for grabs to the students who best bring the lessons they’ve learned to their communities back home. The initial awardees are: