Editor’s note: In late April, 2023, four Scholarship Foundation Policy Fellows joined Director of Advocacy Karina Arango for training and legislative visits organized by the National College Attainment Network in Washington, DC. I was invited to join their back-home debriefing. What follows are their words, not mine…and powerful words they are.
WHAT ONE WORD DESCRIBES HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR TIME IN DC?
WHAT DID YOU LEARN?
This was a reality check. We know now that we will be judged before we even get to speak.
We live in a bubble at Scholarship Foundation. When we step out into St. Louis, it’s a little rough. In Jefferson City, it gets really rocky. But DC was like a rude awakening.
My life is more sabotaged than served by public officials.
There is no effective national agenda for students like us. Even among our allies, there was no common message or community of equals. It was embarrassing to see how little we are heard and how much is misunderstood. We had to dumb ourselves down due to all the rank observed in the rooms.
WHAT’S THE POINT?
WE DON’T GIVE UP.
This just makes me want to DO MORE, to use my degree to make the situation clearer (and change it).
Being there IN PERSON was intimidating until I realized the reality is so different from what had been in my head. The buildings and rooms are so beautiful, but the people are arguing the same issues over and over. It takes so long to get anything done. They are constantly fighting, but they don’t even know why.
This is PERSONAL for me. I am there to REPRESENT those who are not, who have their own potential snatched, who believe higher education is not an option for them.
We are among lawmakers and see HOW FEW YOUNG PEOPLE are in those halls and chambers.
IF NOT ME, THEN WHO?
SO, NOW WHAT?
We know we need to take care of ourselves and each other.
This work is hard, and yet I will keep doing it.
I’m going to get even better at reading body language, figuring out how to make the message speak clearly and which data points to tap at the moment.
Now I know I’m tougher than I thought I was.
I’m becoming more fearless, taking nothing personally.
I’m leaning into what makes me who I am.