Blockbuster Week: John Brennan, Abby Phillip, Mike McCurry, the White House, and more!
Editor’s note: This week Spring 2019 student Eve G. is our guest blogger!
We have had a very busy week at SEGL. With APs approaching, the students are balancing exams, classwork, and Ethics and Leadership Projects. To add to this already-packed week, we learned last Sunday at our dorm meeting that dress would be formal (jackets and ties, dresses, and dress shoes) every day this week. This was because we got to meet with four very interesting guest speakers, and go to SEGL Networking Night!
We started off our week by meeting with John Brennan, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency. It was so exciting to have such a high profile speaker in our own academic building. (We were eagerly trying to spot secret service agents following Mr. Brennan, but to our dismay, saw none.) Mr. Brennan spent an engaging two hours with us (an extra half an hour than he had agreed to). Everyone in the room asked him a question, which is the first time that has happened during our semester. One of the topics we discussed with him was about following what he calls our “North Star.” He explained to us that everyone has a gut feeling, and we all know if what we are doing is right or wrong. I know I have been thinking a lot lately about where my North Star will bring me in making important decisions in my future.
On Tuesday, we had our regular classes but ended the day with a pizza dinner followed by SEGL Networking Night. Our faculty did the best they could to keep our building cold (the AC mysteriously died with a chainsaw-like roar during our session with Mr. Brennan). We used fans, dimmed the lights, and kept the doors open, but it was pretty hard to keep a room filled with nearly fifty people cool in the DC humidity. Despite our lack of AC and the majority of us being covered in sweat, we all enjoyed the night. Some of us spoke to SEGL alumni, getting the inside scoop on the faculty, some of us met the many friends of our history teacher, Lizzy Kildahl, and some of us got to pitch our SVP (social venture projects) to previous speaker Joe Weinstein. But I think we were all most excited about meeting the wife of our Academic Dean and English teacher, Christian Starling. After the event we walked back to the dorms, carrying about nine of our leftover pizza boxes through Dupont Circle, onto the Metro, into Union Station, and finally home, where Hanna and Mairéad (the faculty on duty) greeted us.
On Wednesday a group of six, including me, woke up early to go on a morning run. We were able to run along the Mall before the tourists were out, and we got to see the sun come up over the Capitol building. It was a great way to start my morning. We then went to the academic building to meet with our guest speaker of the day: Abby Phillip, the CNN White House Correspondent. Ms. Philip did a great job at keeping all of us engaged and excited about our session by asking us questions. She had us go around in a circle and tell her the news sources we like to read. I found it very interesting how Ms. Phillip described how difficult it can be to know when someone working in the government is telling the truth, and how she has to be careful with the wording she uses when she writes an article. She told us that when she is unsure of a fact, she will use the word “claimed,” as in “President Trump claimed…” This way she cannot be held accountable if a politician states something that is inaccurate, and she reports it as a fact. This session has inspired me to read more than one news source every morning in order to get different points of views, and to fact check. This morning, I started off my day by reading “theSkimm,” followed by the Wall Street Journal, Politico, and The New York Times, to get four different points of views, and I attribute that reading to Ms. Phillip.
We spent the rest of Wednesday working on our Press Secretary Statements. We were split into six groups of four and assigned a different scenario in which we would have to respond to a crisis as Press Secretary for the Trump Administration White House. We presented those on Friday to Mike McCurry, who served as press secretary to President Bill Clinton. My group had a scenario where a bomb went off at a Beyoncé concert in Montreal, Canada, and ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. My group spent our time researching President Trump’s claims (shoutout to Ms. Phillip for that wording) that ISIS no longer exists, and how we would defend our administration when questioned by reporters about Trump’s ISIS statement.
Thursday was a new experience for any SEGL class. We were the first semester that had the opportunity to go the Trump Administration White House (not the actually White House building, one of the offices in front of it), and meet with members of the Council on Environmental Quality. We met with Mary Neumayr, the current Chair of the Council. This was our last speaker for our climate case study, and we were very eager to go to the White House to hear Ms. Neumayr speak! We came prepared with our usual thoughtful questions, and we all agreed that we gained a new insight into how we would like our questions to be answered during an Ethics and Leadership session. Ms. Neumayr had four other people on her team with her in the room, and I especially enjoyed hearing from Howard Sun, the attorney advisor on the Council. Mr. Sun answered one of our questions about the role of ethics in the environmental industry, and we learned that he is the person who trains interns and employees on the ethics involved with government and the environment.
We then left the building and walked over to The White House to take a picture at the “almost” end of our semester because we took a picture there on our first day of school. It was a good moment, but it also made us realize how fast our time here is gong. I know I have been thinking a lot about how I will make the most of my last three weeks here.
The end of our school day was filled with a big thunderstorm and downpour, but nevertheless (when the thunder stopped) a group of seven of us, along with Alexa and Shizuha, made it to our 5:15pm SoulCycle class with our favorite instructor, Lorenzo! Some highlights of this class included jamming out to one of his EDM playlists and having him shout out our very own Seglette, Nina C., during the class, on her great pedaling!
On Friday we presented our St. Crispin’s Day Speeches, from Shakespeare’s play Henry V. While this fifty line speech was a bit challenging for all of us to memorize, we now have one more thing in common: we know “what’s he that wishes so.” And, after repeating this speech many times, I think I might actually understand what Shakespeare is saying, which is a first.
After English class we presented our press secretary assignment to Mike McCurry. Although having a former press secretary question you intensely can be quite intimidating, our classmates did a great job during their presentations (AND, no one cried from Mr. McCurry’s questions – so that was an accomplishment!). We enjoyed hearing about Mr. McCurry’s time in The White House, and what it was like to work with Bill Clinton. It was also interesting to learn how important he believes daily press briefings from The White House are. We discussed with him the differences of Mr. Trump sending out daily Tweets versus a daily briefing, and the pros and cons of each. I appreciated how Mr. McCurry took us very seriously for only being high school students, and didn’t hold back on his questions. I hope in the future to master, like Mr. McCurry has, how to answer any question in a diplomatic way.
On Saturday, we went to the Smithsonian African American Museum, and for those of you who aren’t familiar with this museum, it is extremely hard to get tickets. We are all very thankful to the faculty who reserved these tickets for us in February, and loved going through the museum and discussing our visit with each other. Then we had May Day festivities on the Mall that night (a bit of a secret, as every SEGL graduate knows). And finally on Sunday, we decided to keep the day open (in order to maximize study time), but with the opportunity to see the Marvel Movie, End Game. This is a very big deal and accomplishment for us Seglettes. We spent about ten minutes making an argument during School Meeting about how this movie will be a monumental moment in our generation’s lives, and how we should not be deprived of this experience. And the faculty finally said yes!
Overall, this week was pretty great. I’m definitely tired and could use some rest, but it was all worth it. We met some pretty amazing speakers, and went to places most people will never go in their lives – and we’re only teenagers. As my time at SEGL is coming to an end, I realize how truly amazing the community we have formed here is. These are the nicest kids I have ever met, and I don’t say that lightly. And then we have our faculty. The most supportive, friendly, and caring people we could ask to have taking care of us (besides our parents of course). So I know in the coming weeks, we will all try to appreciate and enjoy our time together as much as we can!