Grade 8 students went on their annual trip to Washington, D.C., in late October for an exciting and enlightening journey through the nation’s capital. The students were accompanied on the trip by Jennifer Gargano, assistant head of school for academic affairs; Vandana Kadam (math); Chrissy Chang and Deb Shaw (P.E.); Andrea Millius, Jonathan Brusco, Tobias Wade and Cyrus Merrill (history); Kristen Morgensen and Brennan Brockbank (biology); Rebecca Williams and Kate Murphy (English); Bernie Morrissey (librarian); Susan Moling (Spanish); Raji Swaminathan (science); and Elizabeth Saltos (art).
After arriving late due to a delayed flight, the students and chaperones started their trip in earnest the next day with visits to Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg. “Specialized guides showed us what it was like to live in Jamestown in the early 1600s,” wrote Gargano in one of several emails to parents during the trip. Students saw how the first English settlers prepared food, made clothes and lived day to day.
At Colonial Williamsburg, a preservation of colonial America, the students toured several of its most famous buildings, including the Capitol, a recreation of America’s first capitol building, and the Governor’s Palace.
The next day started with a visit to Pamplin Park to learn about the lives of soldiers in the Civil War. Students also got a firsthand look into the lives of soldiers of the era by taking part in military drills and seeing a recreation of a military encampment. During the drills, students Hunter Riedel, Surya Solanki, Arjun Narayan, Cordelia Larsen and teachers Kadam and Brockbank acted as generals for the rest of the group.
During the road trips, groups of students gave presentations on the places they had seen or were about to see. Selin Ozcelik, Zarek Drozda and Sahan Narayan offered a retrospective on Jamestown; Kirsten Talbot, Anika Mohindra and Jasmine Liu talked about Colonial Williamsburg; and Shivali Minocha, Nick LaBruna, Natalie Simonian, Abhinav Ketineni and Antonia Salisbury discussed Pamplin Park.
That evening, the students were visited at dinner time by Amira Valliani ’06, who interned at the White House and currently works in office of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She told the students about her job and about the function of the state department. “The students found it intriguing that Amira helps write speeches for Hillary Clinton, has top secret SCI clearance, and has met President Obama,” Gargano wrote.
Following dinner, the students visited several memorials, including the World War II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, Jr. memorials. “Prior to each visit, students on each bus educated us about the memorials we were about to see,” wrote Gargano. Research on the FDR memorial was presented by Anthony Luo, Calvin Kocienda and Anish Velagapudi; and Helena Dworak, Kevin Wang, Karen Tu and Elina Sendonaris spoke about the World War II memorial. The Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial was reported on by Selin Ozcelik and Nikita Ramoji.
Day four of the trip began with visits to the Iwo Jima U.S. Marine Corps memorial and to Arlington National Cemetery. They also saw the eternal flame at the gravesite of John F. Kennedy and memorial of the “Challenger” space shuttle. “The highlight, of course, was watching the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, followed by the laying of the wreath ceremony,” wrote Gargano. “We are extremely proud of Darius Yohannan, Ashi Gautam, Panny Shan and Natasha Santhana, for representing Harker and laying the wreath with an inscribed ribbon saying ‘The Harker School’ at the tomb during this ceremony.”
During a bus ride to the group’s next destination, Adeli Li, Kristen Park, Jessica Liou and Maya Jeyendren presented information they had researched about the wreath ceremony and other memorials located at Arlington.
Later, the group went to Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., famous as the site of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Following a presentation on the events of the day Lincoln was shot, the group went across the street to the Peterson House, where Lincoln died the next day.
At the National Museum of American History, students had the chance to stand at a presidential podium and deliver an inauguration speech, which appeared on a teleprompter. Helena Dworak, Naomi Molin, Kevin Wang and Kaushik Sankar all gave their own versions of inauguration speeches by Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The day concluded with the students attending a performance of the musical political satire “Capitol Steps,” which the students appeared to enjoy, as Gargano noticed their frequent laughter.
The students’ visit to the White House the next day was the most anticipated portion of the trip. Prior to their visit, however, the students spent some time visiting some of the memorials they had not yet seen, including the Korean War Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial (where the students created a rubbing of a name of a lost soldier), Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial. Students had much to say about each memorial. Stephanie Huang, Luke Wu and Aparna Yellapragada shared a presentation on the Korean War Memorial; Kevin Wang, Helena Dworak, Kaitlyn Gee, Karen Tu and Eilina Sendonaris presented on the Vietnam Memorial; a presentation by Kaitlyn Gee, Shivali Minocha, Stephanie Huang and Aparna Yellapragada contained info about the Lincoln Memorial; and Anthony Luo, Calvin Kocienda and Anish Velagapudi reported on the Jefferson Memorial.
As one of the only tour groups at the White House, the students had the chance to take their time during the tour and examine the many rooms on the first floor. “The students were disappointed they did not catch a glimpse of President Obama but they seemed to appreciate the opportunity to see this important historical building,” Gargano wrote. The students received a primer on what to see in the White House in a pre-visit presentation by students Chandler Nelson, Eliot Gruzman and Shannon Hong.
Later that day, students visited the Holocaust Museum, the Newseum and the Air and Space Museum. “The FBI exhibit and the 9/11 video were the highlights of the Newseum visit,” Gargano said. A presentation on the American History Museum was given by Samali Sahoo, Jonathan Ta and Jonathan Dai; Shannon O’Shea, Jonathan Ta and Neel Jain gave a report on the Air and Space Museum; Kaushik Sankar and Kevin Hu presented on the Newseum; and Kristen Ko, Alexandra Dellar, Layla Walker and Wishu Murani gave a presentation on the Holocaust Museum.
That evening, the students attended a special presentation by Dr. Robert Stack, program manager at the department of energy. “He explained how he funds university grants and in doing so, he invests in research that he hopes will result in new technologies,” said Gargano.
The group made sure to pack a lot of activity into the second to last day of the trip. They first received a guided tour of the capitol building, and got to see a debate and a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives. From there, they went to the committee room of the Office of Homeland Security, where they briefly met with Congressman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana’s second district. Richmond unfortunately had to leave early for another engagement, but the group’s guide brought in Congressman John Lewis of Georgia’s fifth congressional district to speak with the students. “He told the students about his times as one of the 13 original freedom riders and the difficulties he endured when he led a march of 600 people in Selma in 1965,” Gargano wrote. Lewis is also the only living speaker from the 1963 march on Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his famed “I Have a Dream Speech.” The students also learned that Lewis earlier this year received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Congressman Richmond then returned to give a presentation on how he became a congressman after doing public service in his local community. “He urged our students to believe that anything is possible,” Gargano wrote. “He spoke to us about the joys and frustrations of being a congressman and was also happy to share that he was the MVP during a recent congressional baseball game.”
That evening at dinner, the students enjoyed dancing and celebrated that week’s birthdays by singing “Happy Birthday” to students Vineet Kosaraju, Sahana Narayanan, Chloe van den Dries and Anish Velagapudi.
On the final day of the trip, the group headed to Mount Vernon, home of George Washington, where they had quite a view. The students, Gargano wrote, “loved the view from his porch.” Afterward, they had lunch at Old Town Alexandria, Va. With some time left before their flight back home, the students visited the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum. The students arrived home safely on Oct. 28 after a fun and richly educational week.