Impressions of Washington, D.C.

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 8:30am
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Students from the Block Island School’s 11th and 12th grade classes recently took a Close Up trip to the nation’s capitol. Here are their impressions on the places they visited in the District of Columbia:

The Holocaust Museum really changed my perspective on how the Nazi regime affected the Jewish community. The outside of the Holocaust Memorial looked foreboding. At a glance it looks grand. However, at the top of the rounded and columned front were bars that signified the jail cells. After being frisked by security, you enter into the main hall, which is lit by natural light from the glass ceiling. After we gathered our group, a man greeted us and handed out identification cards. The cards were given to students according to gender. Then we were filed into a large elevator that resembled one of the gas chambers. The lights were very dim and there was a small TV screen attached to the top of the elevator door. We were ordered to be quiet and watch the short film while we rode up the floors. The short film was a summary of how many Jewish people died in World War II and some interviews with Allied soldiers who had witnessed the conditions of the Jewish community in these camps. Once the doors opened at the top floor it was as if some force commanded us to be silent. We exited the elevator and flowed into a horde of people. There were lots of murmurs and whispers. It was pretty hard to maneuver around the crowd, but I was able to look at the artifacts and read the blurbs from the start. It is one thing to read the number six million, but to actually get an idea of how many people that really was took me the entire time at the memorial to fully understand. The rooms of the Holocaust Memorial winded in a narrow path. The ceiling was very metallic and dimly lit. Every 100 feet or so, there was a small theater that had snippets of wartime footage. 

I made my way down a couple of floors and came across one of the cattle cars. We were able to pass through the inside. Immediately my nostrils flared up and my skin felt hot. It was very stuffy, dark and dank inside the cattle car. I tried to picture myself squeezed in with hundreds of other people. There was another room that had a scale model of a concentration camp. There were scale models of the diseased being buried in groups. There were bodies thrown together in one large ditch that their own people were forced to dig.

After I walked through the four floors, I needed some time to comprehend all the information I had soaked up. Towards the exit there was a room for reflecting, called the Hall of Remembrance. There was a small sign that asked people to be quiet and respectful for people in the room. The huge room had a very tall ceiling that was glass in the shape of the star of David. All along the walls were candles that I think signified the deaths. There was also a central hearth with a fire. The whole place was very serene in comparison to the rest of the Memorial. As I walked out and headed down to the main floor I saw banners that said “Never Again.” It was nice to leave the place with all of that knowledge but also not leave on a depressing note. — Jake Douglas

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My favorite museum was the Holocaust Museum. Using the word ‘favorite’ to describe this Museum sounds weird to my ears, because it was a very emotional experience. Before you enter the exhibit, you are given a card that has the story of someone who was in the Holocaust. It is an attempt to get visitors to have a more emotional connection with the people involved and the brutalities they faced…Just seeing the photos of the people in the barracks and reading the quotes from the survivors was incredibly horrifying and soul-crushing. I started to cry about halfway through and didn’t stop until the end. But I made myself read every word and look at every exhibit and photo because it is important to learn about humanity’s past mistakes and prevent them from happening again.  Fiona Crawford 

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The Holocaust Museum was not an enjoyable one to walk through. It didn’t make you laugh. It made you think. It made you think about what had been done and what must never be done again. I’ll never forget the images, the films, the stories, or the shoes. The pile of shoes that men, women, and children once wore. My stomach felt like it was twisting in a knot and I remember feeling a rush of sickness come over me. I couldn’t look very long before I quickened my pace and walked to the nearest exit. This was my favorite museum and site in general because it was so powerful. There was a purpose behind the design of it, a mission for remembrance. I will never forget. Laura Johnson 

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Having never seen D.C. before, I was immediately struck by how impressive the city is. The National Mall was designed to impress foreign heads of state. All of the museums, memorials, and municipal buildings are magnificent. The size and scale of the memorials was greater than any I’d ever seen in the past. Everywhere I looked, there was something to gawk at. Merely looking up at the sky could result in seeing a helicopter or two whiz past. At one point, my class group saw a convoy of three helicopters in a line, something our teacher said usually meant the President was on board. I loved the Smithsonian Museums of History and Science, but I was even more amazed by some of the memorials I saw. The sheer size and grandeur of the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, and of course, the Washington Monument, blew my mind. The Capitol Building was larger than life. Visible from anywhere in the National Mall, it gets bigger and bigger the closer you get. By the time you’re right next to it, it seems as if the dome is piercing the heavens above. It contrasted sharply with the quaint, rustic buildings present on the island.

Out of all the memorials and monuments I saw, my favorites were the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. The Lincoln Memorial amazed me because of its scale. The sheer scale of the marble structure housing the statue was staggering. The Gettysburg Address was carved into the left wall. The right wall displayed Lincoln’s second inaugural address. The giant statue of Lincoln in the center of the room is the main attraction, immortalizing the legendary president who famously said, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

Upon arriving at the hotel, we checked into our rooms and went down to dinner. Just sitting down to eat, I met kids from both Nebraska and California. Hearing about their perspectives on their homes and the kind of lives they lead there was really interesting. As usual, being an island kid was a good conversation starter. People who had 40 kids in their grade and thought their school was tiny were pretty shocked to hear about the seven people in my graduating class. That touches on one of my favorite parts of the trip: meeting new people. I was surrounded at every junction by kids my age. However, it was not just students from New England, or from the East Coast. There were kids from all over the country. I made friends with people from Massachusetts, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Arizona, Nebraska, North Dakota, and California. I had a different background than very many of these people, yet we still found ways to bond. I connected with people over music, karate, Spanish, college, even food. I was pleasantly surprised by the ease with which I was able to get along with people on the opposite end of the political spectrum from me.

We met with our two Rhode Island Senators, Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed. Being able to ask questions and talk with my representatives in the midst of the program was great. It allowed us to use our knowledge and passion in the real world and get real answers from people directly involved with the political world.

Later, we went to a gun control rally on the Capitol lawn. People whose lives had been directly affected by gun violence spoke. They had the audience in tears, myself included. The final speaker was none other than John Lewis, Georgia congressman, famous civil rights leader, and close friend of Martin Luther King, Jr. We had no idea he would be there. He told the people gathered there to stay strong. He said that he had started standing up for what he believed in in the ‘60s. He told us not to give up, that our generation was going to save our own lives. For me, it was surreal to learn about this man a couple days earlier and then see him give a speech in the flesh. For one thing, it was inspiring. The whole trip was. I know that my political efficacy has increased, and I know that I’m ready to change the world. — André Miller

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At the end of the week, my group members chose me to do a speech. This trip was exhausting but rewarding. I left with the confidence I did not have before. I know now that I can make friends and speak in public. This trip was rewarding.  I know I have the ability to make change. I am excited to have my voice heard. Avery McGinnes

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One of my favorite parts of the trip was doing the mock debates. We discussed topics like mandatory minimums, the opioid crisis, and gun control and got to go through the process of voting on bills like Congress. We even played roles like chairmen and lobbyists. It was also very interesting to hear the political opinions of people my age from different parts of the country. Mary Conant