East Wake High School of Integrated Technology senior Kayley Marchena had visited Washington, D.C. in 7th grade, but this time when she visited and witnessed the changing of the guard, the experience impacted her much more emotionally as she better understood its purpose and meaning.
Marchena, the social director for East Wake High’s National Honor Society, spent Jan. 28-Feb. 1 with three fellow NHS officers touring D.C. and attending an annual leadership conference for society members from across the country and around the world.
East Wake High School of Arts, Education and Global Studies math teacher and NHS adviser Lisa Sanderson has chaperoned a group of student leaders to the conference for the past four years.
There are two parts to the trip, she said – experiencing the nation’s capital and developing into stronger leaders.
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“There were two goals: for their eyes to be opened and see behind scenes of government; and the leadership piece, to help give them courage to make the right decisions,” Sanderson said. “I saw kids that were already leaders but didn’t accept themselves as leaders say, ‘I am a great person,’... and give them confidence to accept that.”
During the trip, the students – leaders of the 73-member Marcia K. Smith Chapter of the NHS at East Wake – visited the offices of three members of the North Carolina congressional delegation including U.S. Rep. George Holding, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis.
When the students popped into Tillis’ office to speak with his staff, Tillis emerged from the back room to meet them and encourage them to pursue their future career plans, even agreeing to pose for a few photographs and selfies.
“He told us to do good in school,” Marchena said. “He was really friendly... and he had a stuffed opossum on his wall.”
The congressmen’s staff gave them private tours, including a visit to the House Speaker’s balcony overlooking the city and a chance to sit in the seats of congressmen on the House floor.
Despite the chilly temperatures, Sanderson said the group was able to stop by the Arlington National Cemetary and contemplate the John F. Kennedy eternal flame.
Marchena said her favorite aspect of the trip was interacting with people from around the world at the NHS conference, where they learned about practical leadership strategies to bring back to their campuses through workshops and motivational speakers.
“There was a girl in my group that I met from Minnesota – she had the accent and everything,” Marchena said. “She didn’t know what biscuits were ... it was cool comparing cultures.”