What did you do in school today? Yesterday, our students were at the State Department presenting their policy recommendations for Burma to Ambassador Derek Mitchell, the U.S. Special Envoy to Burma. Mitchell is the highest ranking State Department official working on Burma.
The presentation and subsequent discussion is the culmination of a long process that began late last month. After two long and productive discussions, the students chose the U.S. relationship with Burma (also known as Myanmar) as the subject of their capstone policy document. (Each student completes three capstones as part of the SEGL experience: a personal ethical credo, a collaborative policy document, and a business plan for a social venture.) Students then broke down into six subgroups, each of which became responsible for a different area of the document. The next day, we traveled to George Washington University for a full day of research in the university library (students also learned how to use a college library from one of GW’s top research librarians). The following Monday, students presented their preliminary findings before the infamous SEGL “review committee,” a briefing before a hypothetical U.S. delegation to Burma (Senators John McCain, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Bernie Sanders, as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, each portrayed with gusto by an SEGL teacher–little did we know that Secretary Clinton would announce an unprecedented trip to Burma this morning!). In order to help students refine their ideas and stay poised under fire, the review committee is intentionally critical; to ease the pain we provided cupcakes at lunch. The students then set about writing their rough drafts, calling experts and reviewing new sources as necessary.
Yesterday’s meeting with Ambassador Mitchell and his staff was a triumph. Indeed, his deputy called it “the best part of our week” (not bad considering all the incredible news coming out of Burma this week!). Each group elected one member to make a three minute presentation of its recommendations; Mitchell then responded with constructive feedback and took questions. The off-the-record meeting lasted over an hour. The students left proud of their efforts and also determined to make their final draft memorable.
Later that evening, we celebrated our accomplishments and an early Thanksgiving together before the week-long break. Norah prepared a spectacular feast of sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, sparkling cider, pumpkin pie, and chocolate chiffon pie. It is hard to believe that we only have three more weeks together, but easy to be grateful for the wonderful spirit and effort of our community.
The students will release their policy document at the end of the first week after Thanksgiving Break.