Each spring the United States Capitol Historical Society conducts a youth leadership forum for middle and/or high school students in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The programs are designed to promote understanding of the importance of responsible citizenship and the rewards of public service in a representative democracy. For the past several years the programs have been held in the Congressional Auditorium in the Capitol Visitor Center.
2012 Youth Leadership Forum Leadership and the Congress
On April 27, 2012, more than 200 tenth through twelfth graders from high schools throughout the DC metro area gathered in the Capitol Visitor Center’s Congressional Auditorium to take part in the annual Youth Leadership Forum. This year’s theme was “Leadership and the Congress,” and students heard from and questioned both members of Congress and staff members about all things congressional throughout the morning. The day also included lunch, an activity about primary sources led by Michael Hussey from the National Archives, a tour of the Capitol, and gift bags for all participants filled with educational materials provided through the generous support of Washington Gas.
Approximately 200 students from area high schools attended, including: Woodrow Wilson High School (DC), George Mason High School (VA), Parkdale High School (MD), and Reservoir High School (MD).
A speaking panel with members of Congress featured: the Honorable Jim Walsh (NY, 1989-2009), the Honorable Beverly Byron (MD, 1979-1993), and the Honorable Ron Sarasin (CT, 1973-1979). The members shared memories and anecdotes, and answered lots of questions from the students on a range of topics, including whether there should be term limits as a means of removing some of the current gridlock, how different the relationships were with members from the opposite party during their tenures versus now, and even how media influences politics today.
The second panel consisted of key congressional staffers: Dr. Rodney Whitlock, Health Policy Director for Senator Charles Grassley; Brett Loper, Policy Director for Speaker of the House John Boehner; Jeffrey Shapiro, Chief of Staff for Congressman Adrian Smith; and Dr. Michael Gamel-McCormick, Education and Disability to Senator Tom Harkin, Senate HELP Committee. Again, they shared their experiences of how they got work in the roles they are now in, as well as what it’s like to work for members of Congress. Questions from the students allowed the speakers to touch upon a number of issues including how they manage to balance their own beliefs with those of their bosses, how they deal with being constantly on call, and even what they do for fun.