My name is Mayra Ledesma and I am 16 years old. I recently attended a National Young Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 28 to Nov. 2.
Before I say anything more about my trip, I would like to thank Jack and Patty Davis for all their support and funding. Without them this trip would have never become reality for me. I would also like to thank the rest of the organizations and people in the community who helped me fund this trip.
During my time in Washington, D.C. I learned a great deal. On the first day I met two girls on the airplane in Chicago; one was from Seattle and the other was from California. While on our way to Washington we learned a great deal about each other and this gave us a good picture of how diverse this trip was going to be. When we got there we were all so exhausted and tired from flying so many hours.
That night we had our first introduction to the conference: we got to register, wear a professional suit and meet our leaders and the director of the whole NYLC program. Later we were divided into Leadership Group Meetings (LGM) — the small groups that we would spend the next six days with. We did a couple of getting-to-know-you activities. After the first meeting we had the youngest Congressional representative from Florida, Adam Putnam, give an inspirational speech.
The next day we had an international speaker who spoke with us about how we as young leaders need to be involved with international relations. Then we had a meeting with our LGM. We got roles in our “If I were President” simulation — I was the CIA Director. With our roles we helped make a drastic decision concerning Kashmir and the fight between India and Pakistan. We were told that they were at the brink of war and we needed to help the President, who was a Max from Portland, Maine.
As the CIA Director I met with the rest of my Homeland Security crew and we decided on sending troops in and stationing them in the Indian Ocean. We had to convince the President that was the best idea, using research and other possibilities, and why this was the best. The President agreed with our Chairman of Homeland Security. We then had a press simulation where we were the press and the President was going to explain the situation to us. It was very realistic. We had to learn about each other in the process; we learned that sometimes we had to follow and not lead.
That day we also visited the Union Station. Then we visited some of the nation’s memorials, including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
On the third day we went to Capitol Hill where we got to listen to a speech welcoming us to Capitol Hill, from the only Congressman in a wheelchair. Then we got to go off and explore, while we waited for our appointments with our Senators and Representatives. I went to take a tour of the Supreme Court building, and then I went off to my first appointment with Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon. Four other Oregon students and I got to ask him questions on what he thought about budget cuts. His answer was that he thought taking timber out of our economy was a bad move. We had a photo shoot with him and he was a very nice man.
From there I went to meet our Rep. Greg Walden. There we went to the Capitol Building to take a picture. We had a little time to talk because my appointments had overlapped. Greg Walden seemed like a very polite and smart man, and I was glad that I was able to meet him.
Then I got to meet with Ron Wyden again with my other fellow Oregonians. We met with him in the Senate Chamber and he was getting ready to vote. Wyden had the same ideas as Smith about budget cuts and because of the voting didn’t have much time to talk.
The very cool thing was that I saw Hillary Clinton — I was so excited.
Sen. Wyden had his intern take us on a tour; he was our VIP pass anywhere on Capitol Hill. Until we were all told to evacuate we weren’t sure what was happening. Later when we were all on the buses they told us that there had been a man with a plastic revolver gun in the building and that’s why we were either evacuated or on lock-down depending on which building you were in.
From there we visited Jefferson Memorial and we went back to the 4-H centers where we were staying. After dinner we went to our LGM groups and did a “testing the Constitution” simulation.
On the fourth day we had breakfast at the National Press Club. We got to meet with and ask questions of Milton Jones, Eleanor Clift, John Mulligan, Karen Tumulty, and Juan Williams. They talked about how journalism is a big part of this country in many ways.
Later we went to pay our respects to our nation’s heroes at Arlington Cemetery. It was an experience like no other. When we got back to the buildings we started preparing with speeches for the Model Congress simulation. All night we researched and had a committee hearing between Republicans and Democrats.
I was a Republican working on passing Caucus B, which was to give money to those who suffered in 9/11.
On the fifth day we had the actual Model Congress simulation with a Speaker of the House. The Democrats won and passed the Bill that we were against. Later we went to the Smithsonian and the National Mall. At night they planned a banquet and a dance at the Hamilton Inn which was very nice.
On the sixth day they gave us an inspirational speech about being leaders and how we are the future. The trip back home wasn’t fun, it was long and exhausting.
I learned a lot and will carry my friendships with me forever. I met a lot of young and diverse people. This experience changed my ways of viewing certain topics and issues. I feel that politics are very interesting and valued this trip greatly. If I had to do it all over again I would.
Mayra A. Ledesma of Odell is a student at Hood River Valley High School.