6 days in D.C. stir presidential dreams in 2 students

March 21, 1995|By Heather Reese | Heather Reese,Contributing Writer

For two Liberty High School seniors, becoming president someday doesn't seem like an impossible dream.

Sara Atwell of Eldersburg and Anni Hill of Finksburg, both seniors at Liberty, attended the National Young Leaders Conference in Washington this semester, and returned from Capitol Hill with political ambitions.

"I was so impressed because this is what I want to do with my life," said Sara. "I didn't want to leave. I did so much, it was the most productive day of my life. I was running to do things, and I even rode up an elevator with [former entertainer now-California Rep.] Sonny Bono."

The conference, in its 10th year, was organized to recognize, inspire and educate student leaders, said Andrew Flagel, the program's director of admissions. The conference is sponsored by Congressional Young Leadership Council, a nonprofit organization.

Held in 20 sessions each year, the conference provides 7,000 students annually a chance to visit Capitol Hill and observe Congress. Sara attended in February and Anni went in January.

"Before I went, I was so down [I thought] that kids don't care about politics," Anni said. "I felt so disillusioned about the future. It gave me more hope that other people care."

During the six-day conference, each student participates in a variety of activities, including a mock Congress in which students are divided into groups to lobby for and vote on legislation. "My amendment didn't pass and I got really upset because I felt like it was almost real," Sara said.

Another activity for the students was called "If I Were President," an exercise in which one student from each group plays the role of president while the others debate an issue. At the end of the simulation,

the president makes the final decision. The topic for Sara's conference was the North Korean nuclear weapons program. Sara, playing the president, said she felt the pressure of deciding the complex issue.

"I had to weigh both sides. We had a little press conference, and I had to give my decision. I was so afraid that they wouldn't like my decision," she said.

-! The students also spent a day

on Capitol Hill with their congressional representative, and during the session Anni attended, she was the only student from the 6th District and spent the day with Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett.

Both girls said they felt comfortable and accepted on Capitol Hill. "The congressmen were so friendly, they didn't care that you were in high school," Anni said. "They treated you like a constituent," Sara agreed.

Other activities included a visit to an embassy and a trip to the U.S. Senate, where students were introduced to their state's senators.

When they weren't sight-seeing in Washington, participants attended meetings with congressional staff members and high school teachers who are selected as advisers for the program.

Both girls said the conference changed their lives.

"I feel like I have connections in Washington," Sara said.

Both are more confident in themselves. "I've been more prepared to talk out loud, I'm more precise and to the point," Anni said.

The conference is open to high school students across the country, and students are nominated by an educator at their school, or a student who has previously attended the conference can return.

The conference costs $785, and students can raise the tuition through fund-raisers or they may be eligible for scholarships the organization provides.

Anni hopes to attend Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va., and is considering a major in journalism. Sara plans a double major in political science and computer science at University of South Carolina. She chose that college because it is near the State House in Columbia, S.C., where she hopes to work as a legislative page.

Regarding their presidential aspirations, the girls say they'll run as a team. "When I'm president, Anni will be vice president, and then we're going to switch," Sara said.

If that plan doesn't work out, they've made a promise to one another. "If one of us makes it, we'll remember each other," Sara said.

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