I stood with nerves tingling among a small, shy group of teens at the airport. I, at fifteen years old, paid for my own tuition and plane tickets to come on this four-day Washington D.C. trip organized by TeenPact: together, the expenses totaled to $588.40. My parents paid for my week-long Metro pass ($30) and lunch money ($60).
We stepped outside and climbed aboard the Metro train that would take us to our destination: the Leadership Institute dorms. I stared with an uncontainable grin out at the flashing scenery. That week I fell in love with the Metro. I became a Metro-surfer and recorded a train pulling out so I could always remember the screeching, adventurous sound it made. I avidly studied the Metro map, figuring out which trains would take us where. I still have my pass and map.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
On our first tour, I walked at the head of my group, snapping pictures of the gorgeous architecture. With its fountains and statues, I became completely engrossed in photo-snapping the Library of Congress, practically walking sideways while I looked exclusively to my right. Only when I reached the center-front of the building did I turn around. Chills shot through me and my jaw dropped as I beheld the Capitol Building directly across the street, rising above the trees.
We continued our tour, stopping at the Union Station to eat lunch in the café area below ground. The buzzing activity and enormous number of food options overwhelmed me and I simply got in line at the nearest station. We ate lunch at the area every day, and I spent no more than fifteen dollars each time.
In the afternoons, we spent a few hours participating in the Value Voters Summit—an expensive event that we TeenPact students were able to attend for free, thanks to scholarships. I eagerly listened to speakers like Michele Bachmann and Mike Huckabee, nodding in approval every time a speaker broke out of the normal “Conservative speech” box and gave an invigorating talk.
We toured more in the evenings, and once had a mini-worship service on the lawn of the Lincoln Memorial. Some complete strangers joined in, and one couple got down on their knees in the grass, while the woman cried, “Thank you, thank you” over and over.
We visited the war memorials, and I sat in silence, leaning forward with my chin on my hands, reading the long lists of names carved into black marble and stone, hoping to convey my gratitude by giving homage to every fallen soldier I could.
On the third day, we came upon street dancers. I had never seen anything like them, and we all stopped to watch and take pictures. Happy for such a large audience, the dancers moved closer, in their tight black clothes and bug-like makeup and headgear. They spoke with us, posed in pictures, and taught us one of their “bug dances”.
At the end of the day, my group leader always asked us to rate how the day went. I was the only one who, without hesitation, rated each day five stars. I got blisters on my feet, some speakers were boring, the mosquitoes at the Washington Memorial were annoying, and at the end of every day I was exhausted. But I was in Washington D.C. If I had at that time seen the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, I would probably have memorized Jeff’s “freedom” speech just so I could recite it while standing on the National Mall lawn with the Capital Building in the background.
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