Forty-six young leaders, thirty-five states represented, eleven scholarships awarded, seven days of activities, and one experience of a lifetime. Last week the National Youth Education Summit (Y.E.S.) hosted another extraordinary group of high school juniors and seniors for a week-long journey around the nation’s capital and the D.C. region.
As students steadily arrived on Monday, they were introduced to one another through icebreaker activities which helped to shake off the nerves. Once the entire class had arrived at the hotel, it was time for dinner, followed by a quick orientation from the chaperones. Here they were introduced to the week’s plans, goals and rules, and guided the students through some team building activities —including an eight-legged race and a game of human bingo. Before wrapping up a busy first-day, the students broke into groups where they officially met the members of their debate teams to continue working on the pre-assigned topics.
The next day, the students arrived at NRA Headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia where they were greeted by Sarah Engeset, Director of Volunteer Fundraising. The day proved to be an exciting experience for the summiteers as they received a special look into the programs and people that make up this organization including Executive Director of General Operations Josh Powell and Deputy Executive Director of General Operations Joe DeBergalis. The group also had the opportunity to meet with a variety of program representatives from Hunter Education, Refuse To Be A Victim®, National School Shield® and more.
After breaking for lunch, the summiteers experienced a mock Friends of NRA banquet with Senior Field Representative David Wells. Complete with games, prizes, and fellowship, the event showed the student’s first-hand how fundraising efforts make the Y.E.S. program possible.
A trip to NRA wouldn’t be complete without visiting the NRA Range and touring the National Firearms Museum. After a safety briefing and range test, the group had the opportunity to shoot several firearms and learn from NRA instructors. They then made their way to the museum where they were greeted by Y.E.S. alum and NRA Firearms Specialist Logan Metesh, who reminded them to cherish their time at the summit and the friendships they would be making. Senior Curator Doug Wicklund and Special Projects Coordinator Ernie Lyles then guided the group on a tour of the collection which features items from many parts of firearms history.
The following day, the students ventured to Washington, D.C., where they met Congressman Jeff Duncan of South Carolina. The congressman spoke about the importance of the Second Amendment and continued by sharing encouraging words with the students and answering a few questions.
After personally spending time with a state representative, the students made their way to the House Gallery where they were able to listen to two congresspersons speak on the floor before touring the Capitol. A short walk across the street led to the Supreme Court building for a lecture about the history of the court, the building, and monumental decisions made in the courtroom throughout history. Students then continued to the National Archives for an awe-inspiring look at the nation’s founding documents.
After an eventful and educational day, students reconvened to discuss a wide range of current event topics that challenged them to think deeply and share their views effectively with others. One by one, the summiteers showed great insight gained through their individual experiences and eloquently shared the deep impact the day had on them.
“I’ve had a great time seeing D.C. with the help of the NRA,” said Matthew Burton (Indiana). “My favorite part was getting to know many other like-minded students, as well as share ideas and get to know those who think differently than me.”
With the arrival of Thursday, the students were prepared for a day of debating. After a month of working with their teams via email, skype exchanges, and the days leading up, the time had finally arrived for the teams to present their arguments at Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies & Citizenship on Capitol Hill.
Among the many activities the students participate in, the debates are a time for individuals to truly shine. With scholarship money on the line, students not only challenged one another, but also themselves in these discussions including animal rights vs. hunting rights, real-world impacts of violence in video games, and more.
Since touring the nation’s capital can’t all be done in one day, the group then continued to explore the city. The National Museum of American History provided a more relaxed setting following the lengthy debates. After a bite to eat in Chinatown, the tour continued with the monuments and memorials on the National Mall, where the students experienced some of the most moving and beautiful tributes to our country’s history.
“My favorite part of the week was going to the Vietnam, Korean and Iwo Jima memorials,” said Iceley Andaya (Hawaii). “Knowing that so many people fought, risking and giving their lives for our freedom, they really brought everything together.”
Nearing the end of the week, the summiteers hopped on the bus on Friday morning to visit the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. The group was welcomed by an active duty marine who spent time answering questions with the students before sending them through the museum. The students spent time walking the 242-year history of the Marine Corps brought to life by items and artifacts on display.
History lessons continued for the group as it made its way to George Washington’s Mount Vernon home. The students toured the mansion, explored acres upon acres of the property and paid their respects at the tomb of George and Martha Washington.
The students then returned to the bus to make one more historic stop at the Iwo Jima Memorial where, despite the rain, the group gathered to honor those who lost their lives defending our country in time of reflection.
Reflection continued on the final day of the summit as the students visited Arlington National Cemetery. Selected students Canlin Dionne (Louisiana), Jared Lockhart (North Carolina), Lauren Klima (Pennsylvania), and Emily Rasmussen (Wisconsin) participated in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier while their peers and others in attendance paid their silent respects.
“It was an extreme honor to have participated in such a historical and meaningful ceremony,” shared Lauren Klima. “It was difficult to hold back tears as I looked upon the hundreds of headstones.”
Afterwards, students visited the Newseum and learned about the freedom of the press from the immense collection of news throughout history.
“One of the biggest things I learned this week was the meaning of the quote, ‘When you trade freedom for security, you have neither,’” shared Kira Dean (Arizona). “This quote struck me when I saw it in the Newseum and really made me think about our freedoms protected by the amendments.”
The students left D.C. for the last time and returned to the hotel to prepare for a formal banquet and awards ceremony to wrap up an exciting week. NRA Managing Director of Finance Rick Tedrick joined the students as guest speaker for the evening, and several students participated by sharing their stories about family, freedom, and friends. It was an evening of comradery and fellowship where the entire group could enjoy each other’s company and conversation before parting ways.
The evening concluded with the presentation of end-of-week scholarships awarded to the students whose participation throughout the summit truly shined.