As I tossed my bags into the back of a bus bound for Washington D.C., I smiled at my best friend, and we exchanged knowing looks. Our long-term expectation of going to D.C. was finally unfolding before our eyes! It was the summer before my sophomore year, and I was traveling to Washington D.C. for Student Leadership University 201, a weeklong leadership camp for high schoolers. I had enormously high expectations for SLU 201, and yet this camp exceeded them all. It forever changed my life, and I will never forget what I saw and learned there.
On our tour of Washington D.C., I soaked in the sights and sounds that engulfed me. I was extremely overwhelmed with the history of America, and I eagerly strove to commit to memory every piece of history I experienced. I observed first-hand the many qualities that a leader possesses by examining not only our founding fathers but also war heroes and veterans. It was especially humbling and convicting when the speakers asked us what we were doing to improve the world around us. I distinctly remember Dr. Jay Strack challenging us to rally and awaken our generation instead of failing to impact the future by surrendering to low expectations. This was just the beginning.
Mid-week, we were divided into smaller groups to visit the Holocaust Museum. We had no idea what the experience would actually entail. On the way there, we were warned to be exceptionally respectful and quiet once off the bus. Our group leaders proceeded to forewarn us that we would see horrifying images as well as graphic video. After this caution was clearly communicated, we were noticeably subdued as we entered the double doors into the Holocaust Museum. Once past the metal detectors, we began our journey back in time sixty years.
The sights and sounds I endured for the next three hours, I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I watched Hitler rise to power; I saw the book burning; I witnessed the persecution; I experienced terror and pain brought to life in a whole new way. It was pure evil that had actually taken place and now I was simply a bystander observing the past, unable to change anything. I was entirely confused and angry. Why did they make us come here to see something that we cannot change? It was then, at the end of the tour that I read this quote: “Yours is the very last generation to hear our stories directly. Please share them with your friends, families, and your children and your grandchildren. When we are no longer here, you are the ones who have to bear witness for us.” Finally, I realized not just that I loved history, but why. History was no longer just a window into the past but a foreshadowing of the future. The holocaust was a true result of evil triumphing good because good men stood by and did nothing. That day I resolved to never stand by and do nothing while evil triumphed.
Because of this trip, I want to be a history teacher and influence students to stand up against injustice. I want to reveal to high schoolers how being a leader and speaking out against violence and prejudice can make a difference. By educating them, I believe that I will be influencing future generations and impacting a piece of society. Even if I only revolutionize one individual’s thoughts and actions, my efforts will not be wasted. Obviously, my trip to Washington D.C. had a lasting effect, and it entirely transformed me.
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