Navigating politics, culture and global leadership in Washington DC

Research reveals that our memories – individually and collectively – are substantive in how we conceptualize our experiences, construct our lives – and shape our identities. I recall receiving the distinct opportunity of being invited to the White House as a 5th-grade student, along with my 4th-grade teacher, Mrs. Tabb, and the school’s principal. I have retained vivid images of standing in the ballroom as my eyes glide over what appears to be a sea of students, teachers, educational leaders, and delegates from all around the country. Cameras seemed to flash incessantly! We were all there as honorees to represent the success of effective leadership strategies, which included authentic solutions to real-world problems, particularly in our school communities. In addition to the award ceremony, a tour of historic monuments would ensue. As the only student selected from my school to attend, my identification with leadership would begin early in life. Where I come from, dreams are often deferred, Langston Hughes (1951) – or rarely actualized, yet this experience would weave for me a bigger dream of exceptional leadership opportunities. Due to an unforeseen emergency, however, the tour abruptly ended, and we were informed the President had been rushed out of the country. Years later, I realized, that the moment had sown a seed, and I have often contemplated under what circumstances I would return to Washington, D.C.

During the Spring 2024 semester, McDonnell Academy Scholars visited the Capital as part of the program’s initiative to cultivate the skills essential for global leadership. In addition to touring historic monuments, we engaged in workshops and lectures, which included a discussion of empirical experiences from two fellows from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); a courtroom lecture in the Supreme Court; presentations from former and current White House Correspondents, Associate and Senior Fellows, and Senior Research and Advocacy Advisors at The George Washington University, Elliott School of International Affairs on international topics such as Policy Advising, Foreign Policy, and Nuclear Politics. In addition to insightful discussions, Scholars were provided a lens through which we can contemplate the role of diplomacy; respond to shared challenges globally; and explore economic policy. With each presentation, I became more aware of the impact of informed leadership practices and their influence on shaping our world’s trajectory and fostering meaningful change. I conceptualized my ability to become an active participant in the development of policy for the longevity and sustainability of our educational communities and the planet.

In addition to professional development and exploring the influences of global leadership, we created lasting memories of laughter over shared meals, competitions – and even huddling together in the cold. We listened attentively to one another’s aspirations and uncertainties. We heard words of wisdom and inspiration from John F. McDonnell and Chancellor Emeritus Dr. Mark Wrighton. Most importantly, we learned what it means to be a McDonnell Academy Scholar for life.

In many ways, this Washington, D.C. trip was a momentous return to a journey that began years ago, and it holds for me, the answers to my former contemplation.

Read more about the trip.