The Presidential Classroom Program is a one-week nonpartisan behind-the-scenes look at our federal government. The mission of the organization is to help prepare outstanding high school juniors and seniors for leadership roles through firsthand exposure to our government in action. The Presidential Classroom Program is nonprofit and has more than 66,000 alumni, as well as over a quarter century of experience.
During the week, Olmscheid attended seminars led by national leaders, cross fire sessions where she was able to share her own ideas about government, politics and current issues, visits to the monuments and Smithsonian museums, and a graduation commencement celebration and banquet.
Olmscheid first learned about the program when she was reading the posters and brochures tacked on the back wall of her government classroom. Her eyes fell across a poster that read, ĆNot your typical week in Washington.Ļ It caught her attention, so she asked her teacher, Mr. Youngs, about it. Eligibility requirements were a 3.0 GPA or higher, and the basic cost was $870. She had a savings account sheĻd been adding to since she was a child, and with the money she earned working at H & L Express, she decided to fill out the application and was accepted.
Holly didnĻt know any of the other 350 students from across the United States, Puerto Rico and Honduras. The only other girl from Minnesota was Janelle Krohe from Medford, who Holly didnĻt meet until the third day.
Holly was particularily impressed when she and Janelle met Sen. Grams and Wellstone. ≥I realized how busy those people are. They have meetings and appointments every minute of the day, but we talked with Grams for at least 20 minutes. I was really impressed that he took that much time out of his schedule to meet with us. When we met Wellstone he asked me, ĆSo, howĻs that wrestling team doing?Ļ
Holly attended seminars where she listened to senators, lobbyists, journalists, a justice, and an army general talk on different subjects pertaining to politics. She was able to share her own ideas during cross fire sessions, where topics included the role of media in government, freedom of speech, immigration, and human rights. There were only 20 students in each group, so they all had the chance to debate the issues.
During the freedom of speech session, a Jewish student said he couldnĻt understand how some people have tried to convince others that the Holocaust never happened. It was a hard subject, but Holly came to the conclusion that as American citizens, the right to hold our own beliefs and opinions must be protected, but we also must be held responsible and accountable for those beliefs and opinions.
Holly also learned from the Puerto Rican students that when it comes to immigration, Cubans and others from that area donĻt come here with the intention of coming illegally, but itĻs more a problem of not knowing the steps they need to take to live here legally. In some of those countries, if the government found out a person was seeking information on immigrating to the United States, that person would be taken and imprisoned, sometimes for life. With that kind of danger, they often take the first possible opportunity, which isnĻt always a legal one.
In the course of one week, the students saw the monuments, the Smithsonian and Holocaust museums, and Arlington Cemetery.
There were many lighter moments during her visit, though. On Monday, the whole group was excited because they had been told they would have their picture taken with the President on the south lawn of the White House. On any other day of the week, thousands of tourists make their way through the house taking in all the sights and history, but for the privacy of the first family, the house is closed to tours on Mondays. Since the week was already scheduled full, the secret service guys had arranged with President Clinton for the 350 students to have their picture taken with them, and then quickly get them out before Hillary found out. The Secret Service man explained that Mrs. Clinton considers the White House as her present home, and therefore would probably not allow them at her house on the day off; so, since the First Lady was giving a speech at the Sheraton, with some quick thinking on their part, Hillary would walk out the front door as the 350 students went through the back, and therefore, would be able to elude her completely. Unfortunately, the plan was foiled when Hillary was late getting out of the house. She happened to look out a window, see 350 people assembled on her lawn, and promptly told the secret service guys to get them off. The group had to leave without the picture, but when Hillary found out the group were students in the Presidential Classroom Program, she was very embarrassed and had an apology sent to the entire group.
Holly did catch a glimpse of the first lady at the hotel where Mrs. Clinton came through in the company of the queens of Denmark and Spain. Holly was pushed rudely aside by a secret service agent, but when she realized who was in the room, she didn't mind as much.
Holly considered the week-long trip a great opportunity and experience. One thing she learned and plans to use more often is that she has the right and responsibility to speak her ideas and have them heard. She plans to hold some form of public office in the future, but believes there are a few things that need to be done differently in our election process.
She was greatly impacted by the personal time Sen. Wellstone and Grams took to visit with her, and believes that those in government must continue to take time to keep in contact and up-to-date with the citizens. After all, their job depends on it.
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