The sixth biennial History and Politics trip to Washington DC was a great success, as a group of 28 Sixth Formers, led by History and Politics teacher Andy Bustard, accompanied by Lydia Hopkins and Luke Fisher, enjoyed the buzz of the US capital city as it geared up for midterm elections.
After a long outward flight, a meal at the Hard Rock Café and a stroll to see the White House at night set everyone up for the visual feasts the following day.
The first day was spent walking around exploring the numerous historical monuments along the historic Mall and Tidal Basin; the Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Roosevelt Memorial, Vietnam, Korean and WW2 Memorials, as well as the most recent addition, the Martin Luther King Memorial.
Whilst the Washington Monument remains closed for structural work, the students had the opportunity to view all these sites from the top of the Old Post Office Tower, which in 2016 was converted into a Trump hotel.
The group were informed that they had been given approval for a tour of the White House, home of the US president.
This buoyed their spirits further as they headed to Pentagon City Mall for the afternoon. The evening was finished off with a night bus tour organised and funded very kindly by the Waterman family (parents of OEs) who run the Big Bus company. This took us around the city by night, admiring the views and giving even more in-depth information on the buildings, monuments and memorials, including the iconic Iwo Jima monument. The guide, Nur, was outstanding at bringing the city to life and this was a real highlight of the trip.
Day two began with a visit to the White House – the East Wing and the main house were on the self-guided tour route and whilst the West Wing was off limits, the experience of treading in the footsteps of the world’s most powerful people was a wonderful one that will be remembered by all.
A visit to the National Archive to view the founding documents of the US, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, followed, and the afternoon concluded with a visit to the Newseum, a huge and fascinating museum dedicated to tracing the history of the US through the media. Parts of the Berlin Wall and the antennae from the top of one of the Twin Towers that were destroyed in New York on 9/11 were among the items on display.
The evening saw the group watch the pre-Broadway musical production of Beetlejuice a fitting production for the eve of Halloween.
Wednesday began with a brief visit to one of America’s most visited museums, the Air and Space Museum, before a privileged visit to the Congressional office of the late Louise Laughter, a former Democrat representative who sadly died in March. Many thanks are extended to Frances Carrion for allowing us this access, for giving us an insight into the workings behind the scenes of US Politics in a congressional office at such a time of partisanship, as well as for organising our White House and Capitol tours. This was followed by a tour around the Capitol itself which houses the US Congress, where the guide explained the historical and artistic treasures of the beautiful building, including a visit to the chamber of the House of Representatives.
The group were then treated to a lecture at the nearby Supreme Court, the judicial branch of government, whose role is to interpret the Constitution and has seen landmark cases over the years on issues such as slavery, abortion, affirmative action, as well as more recently ‘Obamacare’ and now sees the controversial new appointee Brett Kavanaugh in residence.
A final stop on a busy day was a simulator experience at the National Law Enforcement Museum, where several students were put into the shoes of police officers and had to discuss the various responses to consider – this led to a heated debate on the cultural differences between the UK and US with regard to firearm use.
The evening saw a slapstick performance of Shear Madness at the Kennedy Center, where the audience participated in working out who committed the murder and many among the Epsom group threw themselves into this wholeheartedly.
Arlington National Cemetery
The final day saw a reflective visit to Arlington National Cemetery, home to those that have served in the US military, as well as the graves of former President John F Kennedy, his brothers Bobby and Ted, as well as numerous memorials to those that died in other ways, for instance the Space Shuttle disasters of 1986 and 2003. There was also an impressive changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
We then visited the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon before being given a tour of the building itself which is the home of the US Defense Department and occupies 30,000 people each day. The tour was led by serving Marines and Naval and Air Force officers who brought the building and its work to life in a memorable conclusion to the trip.
Throughout the visit pupils engaged with locals, enquiring as to their views on the state of US politics and the forthcoming election. The opportunity to discover the delights of a DC breakfast and to shop at Pentagon City Mall were eagerly taken advantage of, too.
Overall this was a tremendous trip, packed with inspiring historical and political sights and cultural experiences, blessed with good weather and a happy and enthusiastic touring group. They walked up to 15 miles every day zigzagging from site to site and were immaculate in their conduct at all times. Good humoured, inclusive of each other and tremendous company throughout, they were perfect ambassadors for the College.
Thanks go to Lydia Hopkins and Luke Fisher for their support of trip organiser Andy Bustard for enabling an enjoyable and inspirational visit.
The next Washington trip will run for current Upper Fourth and Fifth Form pupils in Michaelmas half term 2020, just ahead of the presidential election.
Mr Andy Bustard, Assistant Head: Total Curriculum